14 Convicted After £57m Museum Thefts

29 February 2016, 17:09 | Updated: 29 February 2016, 17:27

Fourteen men linked to an organised crime gang have been convicted of plotting to steal rhino horn and Chinese artefacts worth up to £57m in a series of museum and auction house raids across the East.

A jury today convicted four of the gang's "generals" who helped to plan and oversee a string of offences, including break-ins at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum in 2012.

John 'Kerry' O'Brien Junior, Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien, Michael Hegarty and Daniel 'Turkey' O'Brien were found guilty after a trial which could not be reported because of similar offences committed by travelling criminals dubbed the 'Rathkeale Rovers'.

The two-month trial at Birmingham Crown Court heard that ten other men had previously been convicted for their parts in the conspiracy, which included a bungled attempt to steal a rhino head from Norwich Castle Museum in February 2012.

Although jurors heard that exhibits stolen in Durham and Cambridge were valued at around £17m, detectives believe they may have fetched up to £57m on the 'booming' Chinese auction market.

Among those convicted are six members of the same Rathkeale family, travellers' rights campaigner Richard Sheridan, and Donald Chi Chong Wong, a London-based 'fence' who made frequent trips to Hong Kong.

None of the 18 jade exhibits stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in April 2012 have been recovered, but a jade bowl and figurine stolen in Durham were found hidden on waste ground a week after being stolen.

Police arrested six of the gang members in September 2013 at travellers' sites in Cambridgeshire and Essex after examining telephone traffic between the gang's main organisers and 'hired in' thieves.

Opening the case against the final four defendants in January, prosecutor Robert Davies told jurors that paid accomplices unsuccessfully targeted a rhino horn libation cup at an auction house in Lewes, East Sussex.

The trial heard that Sheridan - a former spokesman for the Dale Farm travellers' encampment in Essex - was seen in the company of Wong shortly before police found #50,000 in cash in the boot of a car.

Sheridan, 47, of Water Lane, Smithy Fen, Cottenham, Cambs; Wong, 56, of Clapham Common South Side, London; Alan Clarke, 37, of Melbourne Road, Newham, London; Patrick Clarke, 33, of the same address; John 'Cash' O'Brien, 68, of Fifth Avenue, Wolverhampton; Paul Pammen, 49, of Alton Gardens, Southend, Danny Flynn, 45, of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen; and 35 year-old Ashley Dad, of Crowther Road, Wolverhampton, were all convicted of conspiracy to steal by a jury,

Robert Gilbert-Smith, 28, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy and has already served a sentence of imprisonment.

Terence McNamara, 46, of Marquis Street, Belfast - who liaised with a thief sent into Durham's Oriental Museum to steal a Ming dynasty sculpture  - pleaded guilty at the start of the final trial.

Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien, of Dale Farm, Oak Lane, Billericay, denied taking part in the plot between September 2011 and August 2012.

"Hegarty" from Smithy Fen, John 'Kerry' O'Brien Junior and Daniel ''Turkey' O'Brien, all of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen, also denied any involvement in the offences but were unanimously convicted by jurors.

Sentencing will take place in Birmingham on April 4 and 5.