Fourteen men linked to an organised crime gang – some of whom have connections to County Limerick – have been convicted of plotting to steal rhino horn and Chinese artefacts worth up to £57 million (73 million euro) in a series of museum and auction house raids.
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 10 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 £17 million (22 million euro), detectives believe they may have fetched up to £57 million on the “booming” Chinese auction market.
At least eight of the men convicted after a four-year international police inquiry have family or business links to the village of Rathkeale.
The trial of John “Kerry” O’Brien, 26, his brother Richard “Kerry” O’Brien, 31, their uncle, Daniel “Turkey” O’Brien, 45, and 43-year-old Hegarty was told that a computer used to make incriminating internet searches was found at a house in the County Limerick village.
Their trial was due to be heard with a ban on reporters making reference to the “Rathkeale Rovers” or another criminal grouping known as the “Dead Zoo Gang”.
But a judge opted to ban reporting until the end of the trial – after accepting that previous media coverage of rhino horn thefts across Europe could prejudice jurors.