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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 16:09 GMT
Museum stone inquiry begins
South Portico, British Museum
The South Portico is made of French Anstrude stone
Fraud officers have launched a criminal investigation into the rebuilding of part of the British Museum.

Scotland Yard confirmed it was examining how the 1.7m South Portico of the building was made from cheap French limestone rather than the specified and more expensive Portland stone from Dorset.

The Portland stone was chosen to match the original material of Sir Robert Smirke's Great Court of 150 years ago but the French Anstrude Roche Claire limestone was a distinctive white colour.

The South Portico was part of a 97m refurbishment of the museum's Great Court, designed by architect Sir Norman Foster, which was opened by the Queen in December 2000.

The investigation centres on the alleged non-fulfilment of the terms and conditions of a contract

Metropolitan Police
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We can confirm that officers from the Metropolitan Police fraud squad are investigating allegations of fraud involving a London museum and a private contractor.

"The investigation centres on the alleged non-fulfilment of the terms and conditions of a contract."

An independent report carried out into the debacle by PriceWaterhouseCoopers criticised the museum for not acting quickly enough when the fraud became apparent.

Although the museum's trustees knew about the bogus stone in March 1999, their board did not debate the issue until the end of July 1999.

British Museum
The Queen opened the new development in December 2000
The report also criticised the architect Foster and Partners and the stonemasons Easton Masonry for not detecting the problem.

The museum has refused to pay Easton Masonry the remaining 250,000 owed for their work on the South Portico.

Camden Council is currently considering whether to prosecute the museum over the Great Court affair because of alleged breaches of planning regulations.

The museum claimed the French limestone was as good as the English limestone, but art critics have disagreed.

Sarah Kent, Time Out magazine art critic, said: "The contrast between the mellow Portland stone and its replacement is glaringly obvious.

"It's a bit like spotting that the classical columns on the set of some Hollywood epic are made of polystyrene."

See also:

04 Dec 00 | Entertainment
British Museum opens to controversy
17 Jan 01 | Entertainment
British Museum reputation 'damaged'
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