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  1. ITV Report

Durham Oriental Museum thieves jailed

Oriental Museum at Durham University Photo:

The final members of a gang who plotted to steal artefacts worth more than 50 million pounds from museums including one in County Durham have been jailed.

Chinese Jade and Rhino horn were targeted by the group, in raids across the country. They organised two thefts at the Durham University Oriental Museum.

Described as being bigger than the £14 million Hatton Garden jewellery vault raids in London, a string of audacious heists from British museums and auction houses.

The gang involved were after rare items made from jade and rhino horn stolen to order for the Chinese auction market.

One of the artefacts stolen from the Oriental Museum

Collections have been taken out of the UK almost certainly never to be recovered and some selfish person who has bought them from criminals now has them stored away for their own enjoyment at the expense of everybody else.

– Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, Durham Police

Among the places in the criminal gang's sights was the Oriental Museum at Durham University. It was targeted twice. CCTV shows two people recruited by the gang casing it out in April 2012.

A week later they broke through a wall and got away with and 18th century Chinese bowl and figurine worth £2 million. But the bungling pair forgot where they had buried their treasure and it was recovered.

They were jailed in February 2013 but claimed in court they were working for someone else.

It took raids by 800 officers from 26 forces and a four-year-long covert operation to bring that someone else to court.

The 14 gang members the majority from the travelling community described as working in the shadows.

Passing sentences over two days the judge told the men they had shown no remorse for their part in it. A conspiracy he described as sophisticated, skilled and persistent leading to the significant cultural loss of highly prized museum quality artefacts which can never be replaced.

While the 14 start their prison sentences of between six and a half and four years each amounting to six decades no sentence can bring back the centuries of historical importance reign of raids destroyed.

Watch Chris Halpin's full report: