A Belfast rug trader who was part of an organised criminal gang at the heart of a £57m conspiracy to "plunder" British museums of rhino horn and other priceless Chinese artefacts is to be sentenced today.
Seven of the 14-strong group, dubbed the Rathkeale Rovers because of their links to the Irish town, were yesterday jailed for up to six years and eight months.
They targeted high-value objects in a string of break-ins, including Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum in 2012.
Six other men convicted over the conspiracy will be sentenced today, including Terence McNamara (46), of Marquis Street in Belfast. McNamara, who runs a rug shop in Belfast's Castle Street, has already pleaded guilty to being part of the gang.
Judge Murray Creed heard that although items stolen in Durham and Cambridge were valued up to £18m, detectives believe they might have fetched more than three times that figure on the booming Chinese auction market.
Members of the same gang also masterminded a bungled attempted theft at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, East Sussex.
Sentencing seven of the gang yesterday, Judge Creed said: "It is a conspiracy both sophisticated, skilled and persistent, and involved significant cultural loss to the UK of museum quality artefacts and items from international collections."