Members of an Irish gang specializing in the theft of rhino horns and Chinese artefacts from museums were jailed for up to six years and eight months at Birmingham Crown Court, after plotting to steal up to £57m in rhino horn and in a series of museum raids.
The Rathkeale Rovers, so named because of their links to the Limerick town, targeted high-value objects in a string of break-ins in the UK, including Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham’s Oriental Museum in 2012.
A single rhino horn is worth hundreds of thousands on the Chinese market where it might be used in traditional medicine, decorating luxury products, or even as an aphrodisiac.
Thirteen men are being sentenced following three trials which concluded with the gang and its associates convicted of wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to steal, which uncovered connections to Ireland, Europe and China.
Those jailed were found guilty by jury after a series of trials at Birmingham Crown Court. They were part of a 14-strong gang involved in organising two thefts and an attempted theft at Durham University Oriental Museum as well as further incidents at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, Norwich Castle Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Jurors heard exhibits stolen in Durham and Cambridge were valued at about £17m but detectives believed they could have fetched up to £57m ($79m) on the “booming” Chinese auction market. At the time of going to press six other members of the gang were due to to be sentenced on Tuesday.
A 14th gang member, Robert Gilbert-Smith, 27, of no fixed address pleaded guilty on 10 March 2015 and was sentenced to 15 months in jail on 27 April 2015.
Those jailed on Monday include Richard “Kerry” O’Brien Jr, 31, of Cambridgeshire – also of Rathkeale, Co Limerick for five and- a-half years and his uncle, John “Cash” O’Brien, aged 68, of Fifth Avenue in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands who was jailed for five years and three months.
Daniel “Turkey” O’Brien, 45, and Daniel Flynn, also 45, both of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, who were jailed for six years and eight months and four years, respectively. Donald Wong, 56, of Clapham Common South Side in Lambeth, London was jailed for five-and-ahalf years.
Paul Pammen, 49, of Alton Gardens in Southend-on-Sea and 37- year-old Alan Clarke, of Melbourne Road in Newham, London, were jailed for five-and-a half years each.
Among the items stolen were 18 pieces of Chinese jade from the Fitzwilliam Museum valued at between 22.56 million and “priceless”.
The trial heard the conspiracy spanned England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, France, Hong Kong the United States and Germany.
The Rathkeale Rovers have reportedly dominated the trade in stolen rhino horn and have been linked with the theft of rhino horn valued at 500,000 from a National History Museum warehouse in Dublin and a raid on the home of dancer Michael Flatley in Co Cork, both in 2014.
They were jailed for between four years and six years, eight months.