A gang who stole mainly Chinese antiques valued at £57m ($79m) which included Chinese jade and African rhino horn from museums in Cambridge, Durham, Norwich and Lewes, East Sussex have been convicted. The 14 members from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, London, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, will be jailed for conspiracy to burgle. Richard “Kerry” O’Brien of Dale Farm, Oak Lane, Billericay, Essex, and John “Kerry” O’Brien Junior, Michael Hegarty and Daniel “Turkey” O’Brien, all from Smithy Fen, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, were found guilty by a jury after a two-month trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
Many of the items were destined to be exported to the Chinese auction market. Lead investigator Det Supt Adrian Green, of Durham Police, said the thefts “dwarfed” the Hatton Garden bank vault raid in which items worth about £14m were stolen. “If you think the Hatton Gardens break-in was big, this will blow that out of the water,” he said.
The thefts date back to 5 April 2012, when a jade bowl dating from 1769 and a porcelain figurine – which were worth up to £2m – were taken from the Durham museum after thieves smashed a hole in a wall. They later “hid” the items in a field but were said to have forgotten where. These were recovered and returned to the museum. Eight days later, on 13 April 2012, 18 mainly jade artefacts were stolen in a raid at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum. Believed to be worth up to £15m, the items were described as being of “incalculable cultural significance”. Five months later three men were jailed and a boy of 16 was given a detention order. The items have never been recovered. Despite a number of people being jailed for the various thefts, police said “it soon became apparent an international organised crime group was planning and commissioning the jobs”.
Several of the defendants were arrested as the result of co-ordinated raids by officers from 26 forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in September 2013. Also convicted at the same trial were 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, Essex; Danny Flynn, 45, of Orchard Drive, Smithy Fen and Ashley Dad, 35, of Crowther Road, Wolverhampton. Robert Gilbert-Smith, 28, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to his part in the raids in March last year and has already served his sentence. Terence McNamara, 46, of Marquis Street, Belfast, pleaded guilty at the beginning of the final trial on 4 January. The gang members are expected to be sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on 4 and 5 April.
Several of he forty raids were made in connection with the crimes, which took place between November 2011 and April 2012. See related Articles.