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EXCLUSIVE: Former Dale Farm traveller site leader faces US extradition over smuggled rhino horn cup

CAMPAIGNER: Richard Sheridan (left) with the late Corin Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave (EN&I)

THE former leader of the Dale Farm travellers, who was backed by actress Vanessa Redgrave, is facing extradition to the US to answer charges of trading in protected rhino horns.

Richard Sheridan, 49, spoke for scores of families facing eviction from the huge illegal traveller site during a decade-long planning battle with Basildon Council.

He met Mrs Redgrave several times as she urged the council to allow them to stay on the green belt site in Essex, that was built without planning permission, and was pictured smiling with her and late brother actor Corin Redgrave.

Despite her pleas to "let them stay," the council carried out a multi-million pound eviction operation which received global attention in October 2011.

Westminster Magistrates Court heard Sheridan, who moved from Dale Farm to the Smithy Fen site in Cottenham, near Cambridge, was arrested on a US arrest warrant this year.

US authorities want him extradited to face charges in connection with a smuggling conspiracy involving a relative.

MUGSHOT: Richard Sheridan in a custody photograph (Cambridgeshire Police)

The alleged offence is "conspiracy to traffic in protected wildlife."

It reads: "On or about November 30 2010 through to January 1 2012 at Miami-Dade County in the Southern District of Florida and elsewhere Richard Sheridan and Michael Hegarty conspired to trade in horns of the Black Rhino namely a carved libation cup."

The trade in rhino horns has become a lucrative crime for organised crooks with its pound per pound value more than gold.

Most of it ends up in China and Vietnam where it is used in herbal remedies.

In September 2017, Hegarty, 41, who is married to a cousin of Sheridan, pleaded guilty at US District Court in Miami to fraudulently facilitating the transportation and concealment of a Libation Cup carved from an endangered rhinoceros horn, that was illegally smuggled from the United States to the UK.

SPOKESMAN: Sheridan campaigning for the Dale Farm travellers outside the UN in Strasbourg (EN&I)

He was jailed for 18 months in November that year.

His prosecution was part of Operation Crash, an effort to "detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns."

According to Hegarty's plea agreement, in mid-April 2012, he and Sheridan joined a Miami resident at an auction in Rockingham, North Carolina.

It was said Sheridan acted as the bidder for the three individuals, and made the winning £44,000 bid for the libation cup.

Sheridan then smuggled the cup out of the US in his luggage, and failed to declare the export as required by law to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and neither applied for nor obtained the permit required under the Endangered Species Act.

ARRESTED: Richard Sheridan is held over museum burglaries at Smithy Fen traveller site in 2013 (BBC)

Sheridan and two other Dale Farm travellers were arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London, while attempting to sell the cup to a Hong Kong national.

Hegarty was arrested in January 2016 through an Interpol red notice and extradited to the US from Belgium.

In May 2011, Hegarty and Sheridan's cousin Richard "kerry" O'Brien junior, 33, were jailed for six months in prison in Denver for attempting to ship four rhino horns to Ireland.

The pair met with an undercover USFWS agent on Nov 13 2010 and purchased four rhino horns for around £13,000.

JAILED: Sheridan's cousin Richard 'Kerry' O'Brien junior (Cambridgeshire Police)

Ed Grace, USFWS acting assistant director of law enforcement said: "By trafficking in wildlife products, such as items made from a rhinoceros horn, smugglers are fueling the illegal trade in endangered wildlife, which may ultimately lead to the species extinction.”

Westminster Magistrates heard Sheridan was jailed in April 2016 for conspiracy to steal rhino horns and other artefacts from museum burglaries across the UK and has convictions for tobaco smuggling.

O'Brien was also jailed for the same length for the museum burglaries.

Sheridan was remanded in custody as his extradition case was adjourned until a future date.

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