They managed to steal items valued at £17million, which detectives believe would have fetched closer to £57million on the booming Chinese auction market.
Members of the same 14-strong gang also masterminded an offence at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, East Sussex, and organised the disposal of stolen artefacts in what a judge branded “an extremely sophisticated conspiracy”.
This week 13 of the group were sentenced for a total of 71 years and two months. Judge Murray Creed said: “Over a period of seven months, museums and other establishments were targeted by a criminal gag for valuable and sought-after artefacts. The items were rhino horn, carved horn and carved jade items, some of the items were connected to the Imperial Chinese dynasties.”
“Events started on a small scale in the beginning of 2012 but planning by the group paid off with a successful burglary in April 2012 in which jade was taken and never recovered.”
The conspiracy centred on five incidents in that year at The Oriental Museum in Durham, which was targeted twice, the Castle Museum in Norwich once, Gorringes Auction House and the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.
However, the judge said that evidence had suggested that the hang were active across the UK and Ireland and in parts of Europe the US and Hong Kong.
In their most successful theft on April 13, 2012, 18 pieces of Chinese jade were stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum, which experts valued at almost £18 million and the judge described as “priceless”
The hole in the wall at Durham Oriental Museum that the raiders made to enter the building