Conspiracy to plunder £57 million worth of Chinese artefacts from British museums involved six men from Cottenham

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums.

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums. - Credit: Archant

Six men – all from Smithy Fen, Cottenham- were jailed for a total of 34 years this week for their part in a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums of priceless Chinese artefacts.

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums.

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums. - Credit: Archant

The Cambridgeshire criminals were part of a 14 strong gang that masterminded raids on museums and auction houses across the UK.

One of the Smithy Fen ‘six’, John ‘Kerry’ O’Brien was singled out by the judge as being one of the central perpetrators of the conspiracy.

Judge Murray Creed said: “It was serious organised crime.”

Around £15 million worth of the haul -18 pieces of Chinese jade-were taken from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums.

A Cambridgeshire gang at the heart of a £57 million conspiracy to plunder British museums. - Credit: Archant


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Other raids included an attempted theft of a rhino head from Norwich Castle Museum, thefts from Durham University Oriental Museum and Gorringes Auction House in East Sussex between November 2011 and April 2012.

Judge Creed said: “The conspiracy spanned England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. References were made to France- the Cherbourg visit, Hong Kong and also the United States and Germany.”

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He said the conspiracy had been centred on the O’Brien family and their family home in Rathkeale, Ireland.

“Of the 14 original conspirators, seven were connected that home and seven were associates,” he said.

Investigations were launched by local police forces but it became obvious an organised crime group was involved and in June 2012 Operation Griffin was launched.

Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, national policing lead for organised crime, said: “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, nationally and internationally.”

Fourteen men from Cambridgeshire, London, Southend-on-Sea, Wolverhampton, Kent and Ireland were behind the scam and are now behind bars.

The Smith Fen men jailed were:

Danny Flynn, 45, four years

Richard Sheridan, 47, five years and six months

Daniel ‘Turkey’ O’Brien, 45, six years and eight months

Richard ‘Kerry’ O’Brien jr, 31, five years and six months

John ‘Kerry’ O’Brien, 26, six years and six months,

Michael Hegarty, 43, six years and six months.

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