Gang guilty of plotting to steal up to £57m of museum artefacts

Fourteen men convicted after targeting rare pieces including rhino horn and Ming bowls

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Fourteen men have been convicted for a series of raids on British museums in which they attempted to steal precious Chinese and rhino horn artefacts.

The so-called "Rathkeale Rovers", who came from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, London, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, were convicted of conspiracy to burgle.

The gang was involved in two thefts and an attempted theft at Durham University Oriental Museum as well as further incidents at Norwich Castle Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

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Police say it is almost impossible to place an authoritative total value on the items stolen, but Detective Superintendent Adrian Green of Durham Police said it was estimated to be in the range of £18m to £57m. When compared to London's Hatton Garden raid, where £14m valuables were taken, this will "blow that out of the water", said Green.

The most high-profile of the raids involved the theft of Chinese artefacts, says the BBC. In 2012, the gang took a jade bowl dating from 1769 and a porcelain figurine, together worth up to £2m, from the Durham museum. However, they had several mishaps along the way.

They hid the pieces in a field - but forgot the exact location and the items were recovered and returned to the museum. In another raid, they dropped a rhino head as they ran away.

Three teenagers working for the gang stole more than a dozen jade pieces worth at least £15m from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Though the youths were arrested, the items were never recovered, say police.

The items were of "huge cultural significance", said Detective Chief Inspector Jim McCrorie, of Cambridgeshire police. "We remain committed to following any new lines of inquiry that could lead to their recovery," he added.

The gang has also been linked to museum or auction house raids in at least 16 countries across Europe, rhino poaching in Southern Africa and attempts to smuggle horn from the US, says The Independent. "The convictions represent a rare series of victories against the gang," notes the website.

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