Monday, August 30, 2010 British Museum Mystery

From the BBC:
British Museum alert will remain mystery

29 August 2010 Last updated at 08:58 ET

The British Museum has reopened after a suspected noxious substance left visitors with irritated eyes and throats, as managers admitted the cause of the scare will remain a mystery.At least 8,000 people were evacuated from the British Museum on Saturday after what was described as a "gas" incident.

Police and the fire brigade moved in but have been unable to identify the cause.

Nobody was injured during the incident.

A British Museum spokeswoman said: "The fire brigade conducted a full search but could not find anything.

"They declared the site safe and handed back control of the museum at 5pm."

She continued: "The answer won't ever be known for sure.

"It was just a strange one-off incident."

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: "When we arrived we used our equipment to carry out very extensive checks.

"We were there for about four hours. But we did not get any readings."

The spokesman added: "People may well have smelt something but it dispersed before we got there."
Mass panics are nothing new, though most reports we get these days typically involve schoolgirls and/or the developing world. There was a case in the US a couple of years back where a spritz of perfume set off fears of gas attacks, and I wonder if a similar cause wasn't at work here as well.

On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of thing a brilliant criminal mastermind might engineer if he needed some alone time with an exhibit. No fatalities means no follow-up investigation, so you can swap out some rare artifact with a cunning copy or resurrect the mummy of the Princess of Amen-Ra without anyone being the wiser. At least until you're marching your army of animated terracotta soldiers down Victoria Embankment.