The Museums Association (MA) has barred Northampton Museums Service (NMS) from membership for a minimum of five years as punishment for its sale of the ancient Egyptian Sekhemka statue.
A campaign group defending the statue described the MA decision as “a step too late."
The decision was taken late Wednesday after a disciplinary hearing of the MA Ethics Committee.
The committee ruled that the NMS, run by Northampton Borough Council, breached the MA’s code of ethics by selling the ancient statue — an important piece in the collection of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.
The museum sold the statue 10 July despite strong criticism from Egypt and archeologists, other museums and historical societies in the UK.
MA's decision comes weeks after the Arts Council of England withdrew NMS’s access to its funding after the 4,500-year-old statue was sold at Christie's in London for £15.8 million (around LE183.6 million).
Opponents of the sale warned that the public might not be able to view the ancient statue again after it was transferred to a private owner.
The Save Sekhemka Action Group (SSAG) strongly welcomed the MA's decision as a “very important move.”
“However ... the MA could have stopped the sale of the statue had it taken the decision against the NMS earlier,” Ruth Thomas, SSAG vice chair told Ahram Online.
“Our failure to protect Egyptian artefacts that have been moved to the UK is a crime,” she added.
Northampton Museum and Northampton Borough Council argued that they had to sell the statue as they needed money to develop museum services.
However, the MA Ethics Committee said the council had not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka was a last resort to fund development plans for the museum.
Sharon Heal, the MA’s acting head of policy, said that the committee took the decision barring NMS from membership “after careful consideration.”
Founded in 1889, the MA is the world's oldest museum association. It defends the interests of museums and galleries in the UK.