A gang of idiots somehow managed to steal $80 million of rare artifacts from English museums

You would think all everyone in England does is sit around the pub and plan ludicrous, elaborate heists.

Fourteen British men have been convicted of stealing artifacts worth up to £57 million ($79 million) from museums and art houses across England in 2011-12. The cultural objects they stole included a rhino horn and Chinese jade, which are very lucrative when sold due to the huge demand for Chinese artifacts at auction.

It comes soon after the largest burglary in English legal history—the Hatton Gardens heist in London where burglars left no forensic evidence after they cleaned out a vault, stealing some £14 million in jewels, gold, and cash. They were dubbed as criminal masterminds—until their capture.

The Fitzwilliam has many beautiful pieces of jade in its collection. (Fitzwilliam Museum)

“If you think the Hatton Gardens break-in was big, this will blow that out of the water,” lead investigator Adrian Green, of Durham Police, said, according to the BBC.

While the loot was far greater than the Hatton Gardens heist, the museum gang’s level of criminal expertise was not nearly as impressive.

  • In the first attempted raid in January 2012, the gang hired a man to steal a Ming dynasty sculpture at the Oriental Museum in Durham. The hired accomplice didn’t get far—staff at the museum caught him after he stuffed the sculpture in his rucksack.
  • A month later, in what the court described as a “fiasco,” four hired accomplices attempted to steal a rhino horn from the Castle Museum in Norwich. The men didn’t apparently take into account how heavy the rhino horn—valued at up to £500,000—would be and dropped it as a result. The men fled, but the police later caught one after the gang left behind a car number plate with an incriminating fingerprint.
  • The gang’s luck doesn’t improve in March 2012. They hire another group of criminals to steal a rhino horn libation cup worth about £60,000 at an auction house but the public foiled them—again. Three were arrested nearby, but a separate group of robbers did end up stealing a bamboo cup worth £20,000.
  • Things finally start to get better in April 2012; the gang has their most successful robbery yet. Hired criminals are used to rob the Oriental Museum in Durham again. After smashing through the wall, the men steal a 1769 jade bowl and a porcelain figurine worth up to £2 million.
  • But the good times don’t last long. The group hides the precious items in a wasteland near an industrial estate, but the men are unable to find them when they returned a few days later. One member was seen by a witness searching for the item, while making frantic phone calls. The men were arrested and the police eventually found the objects.
  • The gang finally hit the jackpot a few days later (April 13, 2012) when they successfully stole 18 jade artifacts valued at least £15 million from Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum. They were all captured on CCTV smashing through the vault, but the valuable items were already taken via a car to someone else waiting to receive them.
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