Proceeds of Crime hearing to follow where the accused could get another fourteen years jailtime if the remaining outstanding property is not recovered.
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Danny Jones gets seven years
Terry Perkins seven years
Carl Wood gets six years as he pleaded not guilty and no 30% reduction like others who pleaded guilty
William Bill Lincoln gets seven years, also no 30% reduction for guilty plea
Hugh Doyle gets 21 months jail suspended for two years, meaning time served and allowed to walk free.
Proceeds of Crime hearing to follow where the accused could get another fourteen years jailtime if the remaining outstanding property is not recovered.
Proceeds of Crime hearing to follow where the accused could get another fourteen years jailtime if the remaining outstanding property is not recovered.
More to follow
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Stolen Art Watch, Rathkeale Rovers Guilty, Fitzwilliam Jade Elusive, Sum Ting Wong With Bogus Reward Offer
Museum raids: Cambridge Fitzwilliam unlikely to get jade back, says expert
Bullshit Reward Offer Didn't Help Matters !!
A museum raided by an organised crime gang is unlikely to get back its stolen artefacts, according to an expert.
Thieves got away with 18 mainly Jade Chinese pieces worth about £15m in a raid at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum in 2012. Several people were jailed but the items have never been located.
A further 14 men have been convicted for roles in that and other raids.
Roger Keverne, who helped value the £15m jade said if it had been taken to China, "that's possibly goodbye".
On 13 April 2012, thieves broke in through the rear of the museum, smashed display cabinets and made off with artefacts 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 stolen items, believed to be worth up to £15m, could be worth tens of millions more on the "booming" Chinese auction market, police said.
Despite appeals by the museum and police, and a "substantial" reward, the jade appears to have been spirited away.
Speaking of the so called reward, that was a vague offer designed to deceive. What does "substantial" mean? A subjective term which is designed not to reveal the very low nature of the amount.
Probably a few thousand pounds, for tens of millions worth of Chinese jade, well best of luck with that bogus, bullshit reward offer.
Why not offer 10-15% of the market value for recovery, that would be a real incentive to get the Fitzwilliam Jade returned, but that would mean a payout of between £1.5 million and £5.7 million depending upon the market value when recovered. No, the mean spirited Insurers and owners want it back for a pittance and their shortsighted, miserly offer has proven counter productive.
Mr Keverne, a London-based dealer who specialises in Chinese ceramics and works of art, was contacted by the Fitzwilliam Museum following the theft.
The Fitzwilliam raiders were "very fortunate... that they were able to breach the security," he said.
Security would "always be a problem" for museums as "the works of art and the treasures they hold have to be to a certain extent accessible to the public".
Asked whether the Fitzwilliam Museum was likely to get its stolen artefacts back, he said: "It looks like they may not.
"These things do have a habit of turning up eventually - well, they get put back to the market, things get recycled, they get passed on.
"They move up the chain until they're probably in the hands of someone who doesn't realise they have been stolen."
On Monday, 14 men were convicted over their roles in stealing artefacts from the Fitzwilliam and other museums and an auction house. On the open market the haul could be worth up to £57m, investigators said.
One of them, Donald Chi Chong Wong, 56, of London, was described in court as a "fence" who made frequent trips to Hong Kong.
A number of these took place around the time of the Fitzwilliam heist and by the summer of 2012 Wong was under police surveillance, having met several times with other members of the gang.
It is not known whether he managed to transport any of the museum's artefacts overseas, but Mr Keverne said: "If they've gone to mainland China - that's possibly goodbye."
The Fitzwilliam Museum declined to comment when contacted by the BBC.
The 14 convicted men from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, London, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland will be sentenced on 4 and 5 April.
In a campaign that made international headlines he rubbed shoulders with world famous stage and screen star Vanessa Redgrave and her late brother Corin, who both threw their weight behind the travellers' battle to stay put in Essex.
He also made repeated trips to Parliament, the European Parliament and United Nations to try to get support from MPs and international diplomats.
But during a lengthy criminal prosecution which ended yesterday, he was exposed as being at the heart of an international crime gang.
A court heard many of his co-defendants were related to him and linked to Dale Farm, its sister traveller site Smithy Fen in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and conventional houses in Wolverhampton and in Rathkeale, in the Republic of Ireland.
Fourteen members of the organised crime gang, dubbed the Rathkeale Rovers due to their connections to lavish properties in the Irish town, have now been convicted over their roles in stealing artefacts worth up to £57m from museums and an auction house in 2011 and 2012.
Items included Chinese jade and rhino horn, which is more valuable pound per pound than gold, were stolen in Cambridge, Durham, Norwich and Lewes, East Sussex.
The case can now be reported after the final four gang members, described as some of the "generals" who helped plan and oversee the audacious crimes, were convicted at Birmingham Crown Court following a two month trial.
Eight others were convicted at earlier hearings, with two pleading guilty to their crimes.
The crime wave involved two thefts and an attempted theft at Durham University Oriental Museum, plus incidents at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, Norwich Castle Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Chinese artefacts worth up to £15m were stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in April 2012.
The court heard other items were valued at £17m but detectives estimated the total value could have reached £57m due to a "booming" Chinese market.
Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, of Durham Police, said the thefts "dwarfed" the Hatton Garden bank vault raid in which items worth about £14m were stolen.
He said: "If you think the Hatton Gardens break-in was big, this will blow that out of the water."
The valuables were then hidden in a field, but the defendants claimed to have later forgotten where. However, they were still found and returned.
On April 13, 2012, 18 jade artefacts worth £15m were stolen in a raid on the Fitzwilliam Museum and have never been traced.
Five months later three men working for the gang were jailed and a boy of 16 was given a detention order.
Although the actual thieves responsible for the jobs were earlier jailed, police said it became apparent an international organised crime gang planned and commissioned them.
If you think the Hatton Gardens break-in was big, this will blow that out of the water.Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, of Durham Police
Raids took place in Rathkeale the same day.
A four-year covert national investigation - operation Griffin - led by officers from Durham and Cambridgeshire and supported by the National Crime Agency led to the prosecution.
Sheridan, who moved to Smithy Fen after the 2011 Dale Farm eviction, was arrested at the Cambridgeshire site during the raids.
In the years before the Dale Farm eviction he acted as a spokesman for the site and regularly met with police, council chiefs and MPs to try to argue for a stay of execution.
He denied conspiracy to burgle but was convicted at a trial last year.
His dad John "Cash" O'Brien, 68, of Fifth Avenue, Wolverhampton, was convicted of the same offence.
John O'Brien junior and Richard "Kerry" O'Brien are his cousins, while Daniel O'Brien and Michael Hegarty are married into the extended family.
Both Sheridan and his dad have been twice jailed in 2004 and 2006 respectively for organised cigarette smuggling.
John O'Brien senior's brother businessman Richard "Kerry" O'Brien was arrested at his Rathkeale home, but never charged.
He has since set up a blog alleging he is harrassed by the authorities.
In the weeks before the eviction Sheridan made the audacious offer to Basildon Council to get every one off the site without the need for bailiffs for a £6million fee he said he would use to buy alternative homes - the offer was rejected.
The eight other defendants included Donald Chi Chong Wong, 56, of Clapham Common South Side, London, described in court as the "fence" who often travelled to Hong Kong.
The others were Alan Clarke, 37, of Melbourne Road, Newham, London; Patrick Clarke, 33, of the same address, Paul Pammen, 49, of Alton Gardens, Southend, Essex; Danny Flynn, 45, of Smithy Fen and Ashley Dad, 35, of Crowther Road, Wolverhampton, who has gone on the run since his conviction.
Robert Gilbert-Smith, 28, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to his part last March and has served his sentence.
Terence McNamara, 46, of Marquis Street, Belfast, pleaded guilty at the beginning of the final trial on January 4.
The gang are due for sentence this spring.
The 'Rathkeale Rovers' Irish traveller gang whose robbery spree amassed a £57million haul – FOUR TIMES bigger than Hatton Garden raid
- 14 men linked to an organised crime gang are found guilty of plotting theft
- Four convicted today of helping plan break-ins in Cambridge and Durham
- Exhibits stolen there may have fetched £57m on Chinese auction market
- Trial can only be reported today due to offences by the 'Rathkeale Rovers'
A gang stole rhino horn and Chinese artefacts worth up to £57million in raids on museums and auction houses that dwarfed the Hatton Garden heist, it was revealed tonight.
Four of the gang's ‘generals’ were today found guilty of helping to plan and oversee a string of offences, including break-ins at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum.
None of the 18 jade exhibits stolen from the Fitzwilliam in 2012 have been recovered, but a jade bowl and figurine stolen in Durham were found hidden on waste ground a week after being stolen.
Valuable: The gang stole 18 'top end' jade pieces from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge with a conservative value of £15million
Guilty: John ‘Kerry’ O'Brien (left), 26, and his brother Richard ‘Kerry’ O'Brien (right), 31, were both convicted
Trial: The O'Briens' uncle, Daniel ‘Turkey’ O'Brien (left), 45, and Michael Hegarty (right), 43, were found guilty
Today, John ‘Kerry’ O'Brien, 26, his brother Richard ‘Kerry’ O'Brien, 31, their uncle, Daniel ‘Turkey’ O'Brien, 45, and 43-year-old Michael Hegarty were all convicted at Birmingham Crown Court.
Their two-month trial could not be reported until today because of similar offences committed by travelling criminals the ‘Rathkeale Rovers’. Sentencing will be in five weeks' time on April 4 and 5.
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.
Jurors heard that exhibits stolen in Durham and Cambridge were valued at around £17million, but detectives believe they may have fetched up to £57million 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 in the Republic of Ireland.
Breaking and entering: Raiders broke in to the Oriental Museum at Durham University the night before Good Friday in April 2012 and swiftly grabbed an exquisite jade bowl and a figurine, then fled
Getaway: The items stolen from the Oriental Museum were found by police on waste ground a few miles from the museum, but the gang went looking for other jade bowls, having missed out on the Durham one
Artefect Durham: An 18th century Chinese jade bowl with a poem inscribed on it, on its wood carved stand
One of two items stolen: The wood carved stand belonging to an 18th century Chinese jade bowl in Durham
The trial of the O'Briens and 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.
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.
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.
Priceless: A Dehua porcelain figurine stolen from Durham's Oriental Museum, where treasures were taken
Involved: Among those convicted are travellers' rights campaigner Richard Sheridan (left), and Donald Chi Chong Wong (right), a London-based ‘fence’ who made frequent trips to Hong Kong
Conspiracy to steal: John ‘Cash’ O'Brien (left), 68, of Wolverhampton, and Paul Pammen (right), 49, of Southend, Essex, were also involved
Links: Eight of the men convicted yesterday have family or business links to Rathkeale, in County Limerick - a town almost entirely populated by travellers
THE TINY IRISH TOWN BOUGHT UP BY 'GUCCI TRAVELLERS' WHO RETURN HOME EVERY YEAR TO FLASH THEIR CASH AND SPEND ILL GOTTEN GAINS
Going home: Every Christmas the traveller residents of Rathkeale return to the Irish town they see as their spiritual home
Rich: The streets are lined with mansions like these ones - but for much of the year the streets and houses are largely empty
The Irish town of Rathkeale is almost totally owned by a group of rich gypsies known as the 'Gucci Travellers' who live abroad for 11 months a year.
Rathkeale has an official population of 1,500 and at least 1,200 are from the same travelling families. At least 500 are reputedly members of the Rathkeale Rovers crime gang.
Every Christmas, a cavalcade of Range Rovers, Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches rolls into their curious Limerick refuge, pulling caravans behind them.
And for those few weeks a year they flash and spend their cash in the Limerick town they consider their 'spiritual home'.
Its streets are lined with brash mansions and the roads swollen with luxury cars that make it look similar to the English villages in Surrey and the Golden Triangle in Cheshire populated by the richest Premier League footballers.
But bizarrely some of the grand properties are not connected to the sewers or national grid - built just as a show of wealth - with its owners preferring to live in caravans parked on the drive.
Travellers now own 80 per cent of the commercial property in the town and are said to have bought entire stretches of residential streets with suitcases of cash.
Richard 'Kerry' O’Brien, a prominent local figure known as a 'Gypsy King', told the Irish Times last year: 'They go to Europe, Canada, Australia, South Africa, you name it. When they come back, a lot of money is spent and the pubs are full.
'They come back to enjoy themselves and see their parents after being out in wilderness places'.
During their annual visits weddings have also been arranged, and there are always a handful of christenings - and even funerals in the town's brash graveyard.
With its towering, ornate marble sculptures of angels, Christ and the apostles, the graveyard in Rathkeale is a gauche testament to the hidden riches of some of its residents.
Grand marble headstone with gold leaf, dedicated to deceased members of the Travelling Community at Rathkeale
The Gucci Travellers treat births, deaths and marriages with such religiosity that one Rathkeale Traveller famously ordered that his deceased father's body be preserved so that he could finish his Belgian prison sentence and attend the funeral.
Rathkeale, in Co Limerick, was also the scene of the lavish and brash celebrations seen in documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
The documentary lifted the lid on the huge dowries, specially made dresses and huge sums of money spent on such occasions by the travelling community of the town.
Resident David Breen said up to 2,000 people come to the town over Christmas, but most of it is virtually empty most of the time.
They continue to buy up property in the town and residents say that in ten years, it will be entirely populated by travellers as no-one else now wants to live and do business there.
And the divide between the traveller and non-traveller community is almost absolute, with many of the settled people, who call themselves 'locals' feeling that they are 'buying up the town'.
There is an ghost town on the outskirts of Rathkeale, with dozens of empty and unfinished houses and an abandoned cinema owed by travellers.
And Interpol believe that that money obtained by crime gang the Rathkeale Rovers, through the museum raids and other means such as drug trafficking, fraud and money laundering, was used to invest in property in the town.
A councillor says that at the height of the museum raids by the infamous Rathkeale Rover gang, property was changing hads faster than in the famous property boom of the Celtic Tiger Years in Ireland, between 1990 and the mod 2000s.
It is believed that up to 80 per cent of property in the town is already owned by travellers.
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 Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, Cottenham; Wong, 56, of Clapham, South London; Alan Clarke, 37, of Newham, East London; Patrick Clarke, 33, of the same address; John ‘Cash’ O'Brien, 68, of Wolverhampton; Paul Pammen, 49, of Southend, Essex; Danny Flynn, 45, of Cottenham; and 35-year-old Ashley Dad, of 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 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.
Convictions: Patrick Clarke (left), 33, of Newham, East London, and Danny Flynn (right), 45, of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, were found guilty by a jury
Pleas: Robert Gilbert-Smith (left), 28, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy, while Terence McNamara (right), 46, of Belfast, pleaded guilty at the start of the final trial
In the group: Alan Clarke (left), 37, of Newham, East London, and Ashley Dad (right), 35, of Wolverhampton
Target: A team of burglars, one aged just 15, was instructed to strike at the Fitzwilliam Museum (pictured) in Cambridge, cutting through shutters and getting away with 18 items. None have been recovered
Richard ‘Kerry’ O'Brien, of Billericay, Essex, denied taking part in the plot between September 2011 and August 2012.
Hegarty, John ‘Kerry’ O'Brien Junior and Daniel ‘Turkey’ O'Brien, all of Cottenham, also denied any involvement in the offences but were unanimously convicted by jurors.
Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, the national policing lead for organised crime, said: ‘This complex and lengthy operation resulted from initial work done by the Durham and Cambridgeshire forces who uncovered the offending of a sophisticated criminal network responsible for a series of high value offences across the country.
‘Organised crime takes many forms and seeks to exploit any opportunity to harm communities and make criminal profit.
‘This case starkly demonstrates the level of threat, the lengths criminal gangs will go to and the importance of law enforcement agencies sharing intelligence and working together.’
Plots to raid British museums of Chinese artefacts are bigger than the Hatton Garden break-in, says senior detective
The plots to raid British museums of Chinese artefacts dwarfed the more high profile Hatton Garden safety deposit box break-in, a senior detective said.
Putting an exact figure on the items the gang managed to spirit away from Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum and almost got away with taking from the Oriental Museum in Durham was tricky, but it was estimated at £18-£57 million. The Hatton Garden raid was thought to have been worth £14million.
Safety deposit box break-in: The Hatton Garden raid in London was thought to have been worth £14million
Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, of Durham Police, said of the museum thefts: ‘If you think the Hatton Gardens break-in was big, this will blow that out of the water.’
TIMELINE: RHINO HEAD 'WAS TOO HEAVY TO STEAL'
These are the key dates in the conspiracy which saw Chinese artefacts worth at up to £57million stolen from museums in Durham and Cambridge.
Fourteen members of a gang which planned and co-ordinated the offences, and sold stolen items on through a middleman, are facing jail after being convicted of taking part in the year-long plot.
January 16: A paid accomplice drafted in by the gang's 'generals' attempts a smash-and-grab of a Ming dynasty sculpture at the Oriental Museum in Durham. Staff apprehend the thief, who was brought in from Belfast, after he stuffs the artefact into a rucksack and sprints up a spiral staircase. Other members of the gang then fly back to Ireland or return to Cambridgeshire.
February 20: In what is later described in court as a fiasco, four offenders - again hired in and working to the conspirators' instructions - drop a rhino head as they attempt to leave the Castle Museum in Norwich. Having apparently failed to appreciate that the head would be too heavy to carry, the men then abandon a car number plate bearing an incriminating fingerprint.
March 16: Robbers make off with a bamboo cup after vaulting the counter during a viewing day at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, East Sussex. Three raiders - who had been tasked with stealing a rhino horn libation cup worth around £60,000 - are arrested nearby after members of the public intervene.
April 5: Criminals are used to strike again at Durham's Oriental Museum, escaping with a jade bowl worth at least £2 million and a figurine after smashing a hole in a wall to gain entry. Both objects are left at a pre-agreed 'deposition site' on wasteland near Durham's Meadowfield Industrial Estate after the late-night raid. Frantic phone calls between senior gang members follow after numerous attempts to find the items fail.
Police eventually recover the artefacts on April 13. Prosecutor Robert Davies described the raid as a 'steal it, can't find it' failure, adding: 'It all came to nothing when they had not - pirate-style - put a cross on a map.'
April 13: The gang finally hit the jackpot, successfully stealing 18 'top end' jade pieces with a conservative value of £15million from Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum. Although three men and a youth captured on CCTV smashing their way into the museum at 7.29pm were apprehended and dealt with by the courts within months, the items were spirited away via car and taxi. Detectives believe they were in the hands of gang member Alan Clarke - who was waiting to receive them on a station car park in Purfleet in Essex - by the early hours of the following day.
September 10: After intensive pan-European investigations into those who directed the raids, police execute warrants simultaneously at around 30 locations in the West Midlands, London, Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Northern Ireland.
Mr Green was first involved when raiders broke in to the Oriental Museum at Durham University in April 2012.
Commercial burglars broke through walls the night before Good Friday, burst in and swiftly grabbed an exquisite jade bowl and a figurine, then fled.
The detective said: ‘The bowl is Ming Dynasty and is one of the best in the world with a value of in excess of £2m and as high as £16m.’
The items were found by police on waste ground a few miles from the museum, but the gang went looking for other jade bowls, having missed out on the Durham one.
Another team of burglars, one aged just 15, was instructed to strike at the Fitzwilliam Museum, cutting through shutters and getting away with 18 items. None have been recovered.
Their value has been estimated to be between £16m and £40m. Police linked the two raids and asked other forces around the country for examples of crimes involving auction houses and museums, Chinese artefacts or rhino horn and elephant tusks.
The National Crime Agency took on the role, with support from the CPS, HMRC, Europol and the Covert Asset Bureau in Dublin.
It came to light that a rhino horn libation cup worth £250,000 had previously been taken from Durham Oriental Museum.
And a team of criminals had gone to Norwich Castle Museum and tried to steal a heavy rhino head that was on display, but they were tackled by members of the public and had to dump the cumbersome trophy.
There was an attempted theft from an auction house in Lewes, East Sussex, in March 2013 where criminals posing as customers leapt over the counter and grabbed a £20,000 bamboo cup instead of a libation cup worth 10 times that amount.
The Kelvingrove Museum and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow were also targeted in March 2012 for Chinese artefacts, but the gang failed to steal anything.
A countrywide team of 24 detectives looked for the international figures who instructed individual teams of thieves and pieced together a huge investigation.
It led to 25 people being arrested in England and Northern Ireland, with 40 premises searched including properties in the Republic of Ireland and Spain.
Mr Green said the gang leaders were cowards.
‘If you look at the audacity of what they do and the value of the property that they have taken, I think that makes them significant criminals both within the UK and potentially across the world,’ he said.
‘I also think they are cowards because they hire in others, some of them vulnerable, some of the children, to actually do the dirty work.
‘They do that while they are at safe distances, sometimes in another country, so they cannot be caught... But they can.’
Museum security has been beefed up as a result of the case.
Mr Green said: ‘They are a bit like banks where people can come in and touch the money. Their job is to hold items for the public and let them see them and it is quite difficult for them to get the balance right.
‘The higher the security, the higher the budget to maintain that security. The difficult thing is, it is all driven by China's economic boom.’
'A man of significant wealth': How the 'fence' at the heart of the plot lived in a multimillion-pound London house with its own lift
The ‘fence’ at the heart of the plot to steal historic Chinese artefacts and rhino horn lived in a multimillion-pound house with its own lift and made frequent trips to Hong Kong.
'Fence': Donald Chi Chong Wong was twice involved in incidents which led to police finding tens of thousands of pounds casually stuffed into plastic bags
RHINO HORN TARGETED BECAUSE OF 'ABSURD' BELIEFS IN HEALING
Ground-up rhino horn - although medically useless - has been targeted by criminal networks across Europe and other parts of the world because of ‘absurd’ beliefs about its supposed healing powers.
Reported to have a wholesale value of around £50,000 per kilo in countries such as China, rhino horn is also regarded by some communities as a mark of wealth.
The popularity of rhino horn in parts of the Far East means it can fetch three times the price of gold and has a street value equivalent to cocaine. But as rhino horn thefts at museums in Europe increased in number in recent years, many rhino horn items were taken off public display. Crime gangs then moved on to stealing Chinese artefacts to supply wealthy collectors made rich by China's economic boom.
The barrister who prosecuted those responsible for overseeing attempts to steal rhino horn in Norwich and Lewes, Robert Davies, told jurors: ‘The reason for the desirability of rhino horns, or objects made from rhino horns, is that it is believed by some, particularly in places like China, that owning it is a sign of great affluence.
‘More importantly, however absurd such beliefs may be, it is believed by some people that ground-up rhino horn can cure all sorts of ailments, including cancer. By the time it is being sold in places like China and the Far East, powdered rhino horn is one of the most valuable commodities, gram for gram, on this planet. Hence there is a motivation to get hold of it and sell it through to the market for it in China.’
The involvement of organised crime gangs originating in the Republic of Ireland in rhino horn thefts - often from European museums - was highlighted in a Europol report in 2011.
Europol launched Operation Oakleaf in 12 countries in November 2010 to combat a ‘mobile organised crime group of Irish origin’ involved in tarmac fraud, the distribution of counterfeit products, robbery, money laundering and drug trafficking.
In its review of 2011, Europol said: ‘Recently, these criminals have also started to specialise in the theft and illegal trade of rhino horn, hence the activities of its members now being reported in North and South America, South Africa, China and Australia.’
Jurors trying London-based Donald Chi Chong Wong - whose double-fronted three-storey home overlooked Clapham Common - were told he was a ‘man of significant wealth’, but lived a life way beyond his declared means.
It also emerged during the middleman's trial that he was twice involved in incidents which led to police finding tens of thousands of pounds casually stuffed into plastic bags.
Wong arrived back in Britain from Hong Kong in the early hours of March 21 2012 - a fortnight before burglars escaped with a £2 million jade bowl from a museum in Durham.
After a flurry of telephone calls between various co-conspirators on March 21, Wong met Daniel Flynn, Daniel O'Brien and Richard O'Brien Junior in Soho.
Wong then made another trip to Hong Kong, but returned to the UK on April 17 - meeting three gang members in the Barking area of London the following day, apparently to discuss the disposal of the items stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum five days earlier.
By the summer of 2012, Wong was under surveillance after making a third trip to Hong Kong.
Hours after arriving back in London on June 29, Wong was spotted near his home - which boasted ornate chandeliers and numerous abstract artworks - carrying a bright yellow plastic bag.
He then drove his car to a nearby location, where Flynn got into the passenger seat.
A white woman accompanying Flynn was then seen to carry the bag - thought to contain cash - away from the car.
On July 19 2012, Wong met three men in Wandsworth and gave them a yellow plastic bag.
The bag was then placed in the boot of a car by one of the men and it was found to contain £50,000 after the vehicle was stopped by police.
Around a year earlier, Wong - who routinely submitted relatively low tax returns - was treated for injuries after falling victim to an attempted robbery.
Police who arrived to help him found a green carrier bag and a black pouch containing £68,000 under the passenger seat of a nearby vehicle.
Searches of Wong's property and a safety deposit box led to the discovery of a number of artefacts made of ivory tusk, and a receipt showing a bid at an auction for a rhinoceros horn libation cup.
Museum raids gang guilty over Chinese art and rhino thefts
Fourteen members of an organised crime gang have been convicted over their roles in stealing artefacts worth up to £57m from museums and an auction house.
Items including Chinese jade and rhino horn were stolen in Cambridge, Durham, Norwich and Lewes, East Sussex.
The men, from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, London, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, were convicted of conspiracy to burgle.
The case can now be reported after the final four were found guilty.
They were described as some of the gang's "generals", who helped plan and oversee a string of offences.
Durham Police Richard Sheridan, Michael Hegarty, Richard O'Brien Jnr, John O'Brien, Daniel O'Brien, Chi Chong Donald Wong, Alan Clarke; (bottom, l-r) Patrick Clarke, John O'Brien, Daniel Flynn, Ashley Dad, Paul Pammen, Robert Gilbert-Smith, Terence McNamara
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.
Ten others, dubbed the "Rathkeale Rovers" were convicted at earlier hearings.
The gang was involved in 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.
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 most high-profile of the gang's raids involved the theft of Chinese artefacts.
On 5 April 2012, 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".
Some of the defendants were arrested during co-ordinated raids by officers from 26 forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in September 2013.
The 40 raids were made in connection with the crimes, which took place between November 2011 and April 2012.
The gang was brought to justice after a four-year covert national investigation - operation Griffin - led by officers from Durham and Cambridgeshire, supported by the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council.
The 10 others convicted of conspiracy to burgle included travellers' rights campaigner Richard Sheridan, 47, of Water Lane, Smithy Fen, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire and Donald Chi Chong Wong, 56, of Clapham Common South Side, London.
He was described in court as a "fence" who made frequent trips to Hong Kong. Both denied any involvement in the raids but were found guilty by a jury in November.
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.
Get Basil: He got the jewels, fled to South America and dodged The Yard. But the Hatton Garden lynchpin will pray they get to him before the gangsters he doubled-crossed
- Basil ‘the evil clown’, wore his disguise throughout Hatton Garden heist
- He seemingly vanished without a trace after the £14million burglary
- Detectives have four suspects but the identity of Basil remains a mystery
- Basil believed to be in Panama, with another figure from British underworld
- Flying Squad, Adams family and friends of Hatton Garden gang after him
It had been quite an entrance for the man known as ‘Basil’. With strange red-coloured hair sticking out from under a baseball cap and his face masked by huge sunglasses, he looked, those present later remarked, ‘like some kind of evil clown’. Not that anyone was laughing.
For more than two years, ageing career criminals Brian Reader and Terry Perkins had been planning ‘one last job’, an audacious safe deposit burglary in Hatton Garden that would allow both to live out their lives in luxury while establishing themselves in the murky pantheon of London’s underworld.
Now, in the summer of 2014, they were seeking the approval of the notorious Adams family, one of London’s most feared and violent crime gangs, who would not look kindly on a headline-grabbing heist in the centre of their fiefdom – without, that is, their approval.
So it was that they arranged to meet an Adams family lieutenant, who listened carefully to the details of their proposal as they sat behind the closed doors and shutters of a British-owned brothel masquerading as a club on the outskirts of Malaga in Spain.
A younger man was summoned to the table – a tall, slim stranger in utterly outlandish disguise.
‘Basil has got something that might be of great interest to you two gentlemen,’ explained the Adams family representative.
On cue, Basil opened the palm of his hand to reveal two keys to the famous Hatton Garden Safe Deposit vault.
‘He knows that building like the back of his hand. He’ll knock out all the alarms and sort the lift out for you. All we want in return is for him to take away one particular box that is of interest to us. Whatever you take is yours. Are you happy?’
As things turned out, last Easter’s spectacular raid by a gang of old-age pensioners captured the public imagination more than any crime since the Great Train Robbery.
Tens of millions of pounds worth of gold, platinum and gemstones were taken from a seemingly impregnable vault after a hole was drilled through the thick concrete wall.
But while seven ageing villains, including Perkins and Reader, now languish behind bars awaiting sentence, one member of the gang, perhaps the most colourful of all, remains at large – together with a large quantity of the valuables taken from 73 safety deposit boxes that they opened.
And that man is Basil ‘the evil clown’, who also wore his disguise throughout the raid, and has now seemingly vanished into thin air.
The police, of course, are doing everything they can.
But today I can reveal that Basil is wanted not just by the forces of law and order, but by the Adams family, too – the crime syndicate which first employed him, but which he has now double-crossed.
Like the mysterious Keyzer Söze, the central character of the labyrinthine 1995 heist movie The Usual Suspects, Basil appears to have manipulated the entire enterprise for his own ends, betraying both his criminal masters and the hapless old lags who now languish behind bars.
He has vanished without trace along with the lion’s share of the spoils, and the result is an almost unprecedented triple manhunt –with the Flying Squad, the Adams family and friends of the Hatton Garden gang all looking for him.
Today Basil is believed to be safe in Panama, accompanied by another leading figure from the British underworld. The outcome of this deadly game of cat-and-mouse depends on who finds him first.
One of my main sources of information on the case is a 78-year-old London gangster I can identify only as ‘Billy’, a man who was originally recruited to be part of the ‘job’ but had to cry off at the last moment because of his failing health.
‘Basil is the real operator behind all this,’ Billy told me.
‘He’s the one who got this job by the scruff of the neck and got those lads into the main building and disabled the alarms, enabling them to smash a hole in the vault wall and make off with all that loot.’
Grainy footage taken from security cameras was little use to the police, but it did indeed show that the mysterious ‘Basil’ was in charge of the operation as the team of old codgers under his command circumvented or destroyed barrier after barrier inside the vault.
It was Basil who was somehow able to open the front door and then the fire exit to let the gang in from the street and it was Basil who marshalled the next two days of the raid.
He’s stitched up everyone in sight and, as a result, he is a dead man walking. It would be a miracle if he doesn’t end up in prison or dead
Easily the most professional, he was careful to avert his face away from security cameras. Even out on the street, he carried a bag placed strategically on his shoulder to mask his profile.
‘But he must have a death wish,’ continued Billy.
‘He’s stitched up everyone in sight and, as a result, he is a dead man walking. It would be a miracle if he doesn’t end up in prison or dead.’
Only the Adams family know Basil’s identity for certain, but I’ve unearthed some tantalising clues which help explain not only who he is, but why he has been willing to cross one of the most feared crime syndicates in the country.
I’ve learned from underworld sources, for example, that Basil is not a policeman ‘gone wrong’, as has been claimed, but a safecracker or ‘locksman’ with family links to the smelting of gold from the 1983 Brink’s-Mat robbery.
I understand that his father was a major criminal who died in violent circumstances more than a quarter of a century ago, a death he is now keen to avenge.
By coincidence, Brian Reader, the man who planned and ‘masterminded’ the Hatton Garden heist had his own connection to the Brink’s-Mat raid, when £26 million of gold bullion was stolen from a warehouse at Heathrow Airport. Indeed, he was jailed for his part in laundering the proceeds.
So it says something for Basil’s discretion – and disguise – that despite this link the Hatton Garden gang knew nothing of his identity.
And his link to the Adams family meant they never felt able to challenge him.
The Adams family have had their headquarters in Hatton Garden, London’s diamonds and jewellery district, for decades. Linked to 25 murders and said to be involved in drugs, extortion and armed robbery, they still the rule the area with a rod of iron.
And for many years they had been eyeing the underground vault of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, which housed one particular deposit box in which they had a keen interest.
They even had keys to the building, copies of which were taken when the family staged a break-in at the North London home of the manager of the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Company in 2013 – an incident recorded at the time by the police as an ‘aggravated burglary’ but which was otherwise barely reported.
Constant police surveillance meant the Adamses didn’t dare organise a raid on Hatton Garden ... until Perkins and Reader presented them with their plan.
The reason for their interest goes back to the Brink’s-Mat robbery.
That event turned into a bloodbath of revenge and recrimination – and, indeed, is said to be the ‘thing that connects all the dots’ in the complex story of the safe deposit job.
Billy revealed to me the Adams’s motive in sending Basil to organise the raid was to recover the contents of a box belonging to notorious criminal John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer, who fell out with the Adams clan over the Brink’s-Mat gold.
The box, said to have been used by Palmer as an ‘insurance policy’, is thought to have contained evidence that would have nailed the Adams family for a series of gangland murders in the 1990s.
Basil fulfilled his task to deliver the box and, chillingly, Palmer was shot dead in his gated home in Essex in June last year just two months after the Hatton Garden raid. The crime remains unsolved.
Despite being the Adams’s trusted representative on the Hatton Garden raid, Basil had long nursed a grudge against the family because he believes they were connected to the death of his father.
Almost immediately after delivering Palmer’s box to the Adams family, ‘Basil’ met Terry Perkins and told him he wanted the lion’s share of the most valuable loot. It was an audacious demand.
‘Perkins told him where to go,’ I was told by another source, a retired South London criminal close to some of the gang members.
A source said Basil blackmailed the gang, telling them he had clear, close-up CCTV footage of them from inside the building
‘But then Basil told Perkins about some CCTV footage in a hard-drive he’d taken from the building that showed much clearer, close-up shots of the gang than those obtained by the police.
‘In other words, Basil blackmailed them into letting him take what he wanted.’
So, in a visit to the Islington home of fellow burglar John ‘Kenny’ Collins, Basil was allowed to ‘relieve’ the gang of their most valuable pieces, believed to be worth in excess of £20 million.
Billy explained: ‘The lads had no choice. Basil had got them over a barrel.
‘He promised he’d come back with their share of the cash once he’d sold everything, but Terry knew that was never going to happen.
‘Then Basil disappeared into thin air. Surprise. Surprise.
‘I heard he went back to Spain first but then he got out of there quick because the Adams family wanted to have a word with him.’
His disappearance left the ringleaders of the heist – Reader, Perkins, Danny Jones and Collins – in fear of their lives. They knew if ‘Basil’ was arrested, the Adams family would suspect them of ‘grassing up’ the man who could connect them to Palmer.
Despite their earlier assurance, the Adamses were also angry at being denied a share of the loot, which they were now claiming, despite their earlier assurances. They had, after all, provided the inside knowledge, the team leader and even the keys to the building.
The gang involved in the Hatton Garden raid stole valuables worth up to £14m, but police have only recovered one third of the loot
There was also an envelope of money found in a plastic folder on a bedroom shelf at William Lincoln's home
Two-thirds of the proceeds of the raid have never been recovered.
My sources tell me there is already talk of a ‘Curse of Hatton Garden’, which could end in bloodshed to rival the so-called ‘Curse of Brink’s-Mat’ that has so far led to the violent deaths of as many as 20 of those involved. ‘That’s why the robbery gang pleaded guilty,’ explained Billy. ‘They didn’t want the Adams family thinking they had helped the police, so they held their hands up and took the punishment.
‘They were happier going to jail than facing the wrath of the Adamses. Not only do they not know the identity of Basil but they don’t want to know either. It’s a dangerous situation all round.’
Basil is well advised to lie low – for some considerable time. I have been told that he left for Spain and then travelled to Panama where he joined forces with a veteran armed robber and cocaine baron called Mickey Greene, who has been wanted in the UK and three other countries for more than 20 years. Greene’s nickname is the Pimpernel.
According to Billy, the two are close friends and have family ties.
As for the police, a retired Flying Squad officer told me recently that detectives still don’t know who ‘Basil’ is.
They have four main suspects, apparently, but the real mystery of Britain’s most notorious burglary of recent times and the vanishing proceeds will only be solved when Basil is either brought to justice or, more likely perhaps, found dead.