The 'Rathkeale Rovers': 13 men charged with stealing rhino horns and museum antiquities

Men accused of string of organised robberies

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Police investigating a team of jewel and rhino horn thieves dubbed the “Rathkeale Rovers” have charged 13 men over a string of museum raids across the country that netted millions of pounds’ worth of precious artefacts.

The 13 have been charged with conspiracy to steal  after Chinese antiques and horns were targeted in  seven burglaries over four months at an auction house and four museums.

Thieves stole jade figures and bowls from the Ming and Qing dynasties worth £15m in one of the raids, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. None of the 18 artefact items has been recovered.

Twelve men, aged between 25 and 67, were arrested in raids across Britain in September last year in an operation co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency.

It was combined with further searches in Rathkeale, a town in Co Limerick, in  the south-west of Ireland,  that gave the name to the  men, who are thought to  have roots in the Irish travelling community.

A 13th man, Daniel O’Brien, 44, from a traveller site at Smithy Fen, Cambridge, was arrested this week and appeared in court in Birmingham yesterday. The other men will appear at the same court in three weeks.

Three of the criminal raids were carried out at the Durham University Oriental Museum. Another raid was foiled when members of the public intervened at the Norwich Castle Museum.

The burglaries highlighted the high value to criminals of rhino horn, which can provide a higher profit margin than gold or cocaine. It also has the advantage of being difficult to trace and less identifiable than other commodities.