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Dale Farm spokesman rumbled as rhino horn burglar gang member by his subscription to the Travellers' Times

THE campaigning former head of the Dale Farm traveller site's double life as an international gangster was exposed through his subscription to a traveller magazine.

Richard Sheridan, 55, (being arrested above) was part of an organised crime gang involved in the illegal sale and theft of around £57 million pounds worth of rhino horns and Chinese artefacts from museums at the same time as he championed traveller rights.

From 2005 Sheridan became the friendly face of a group of families who were fighting eviction from the controversial unauthorised Dale Farm site near Basildon, Essex, home to up to 500 people.

His campaigning saw him travel to the European Parliament in Strasbourg (below top), while rubbing shoulders with chief constables and actors Corin (now deceased) and Vanessa Redgrave (below bottom).

In 2011 he tried to stop the eviction, which went ahead and was watched by the world in October that year.

Behind the scenes, he secretly helped plan burglaries of museums in the UK and Europe, to steal rhinoceros horns and other Chinese artefacts.

A three-part Sky documentary series next month<January> reveals he used the same mobile phone number to communicate with a burglar hired by his gang, as he did to subscribe to the Travellers Times - a magazine centred on the rights of gypsies and travellers.

DS Adrian Green, who led a national task force to investigate the UK museum thefts, obtained a string of mobile phone numbers from Lee Wildman 45's phone after he was linked to an audacious break-in at Durham University Oriental Museum in April 2012.

Wildman made a series of panicked calls to Sheridan and other gang members after he lost £2m of stolen jade artefacts he hid in a field.

Mr Green said: "Looking at the billing, I identified a number that related to the Travellers Times magazine.

"We made an approach to them and we identified that there was a subscription in the name of Ricard Sheridan (below in police mugshot). He was the cousin of (gang leader) Richard "Kerry" O'Brien junior."

Oddly, the international crime gang had used personal phone numbers to communicate with Wildman.

O'Brien was tracked through a insurance company while brother-in-law Michael Heggarty was found through registering the phone with his dentist.

Of the 14 gang members jailed, Wildman received nine years. Sheridan was jailed for 14 months.

Investigative journalist and author Eamon Dillon has written about the activities of the gang, which originates from Rathkeale in County Limerick, Ireland, for the past 20 years.

He said: "We knew they were not exactly the most sophisticated of organised criminals, but it was just the sheer volume of break-ins they inspired.

"You almost have to take your hat off to think how did they pull off a stroke like this as they were up against some serious criminals in Vietnam and China?

"They were pretty smart in one sense, but pretty bungling in the way they operated."

The series charts how the gang, traditionally involved in bitumen and counterfeit goods scams across Europe, branched into the black-market rhino horn trade from 2009.

The group, that was also involved in dealing antiques, had spotted the price of rhino horns rising higher than that of gold fuelled by a Chinese demand for their use in traditional medicine as a "miracle cure" for anything from hangovers to cancer.

The gang initially began illegally importing rhino horn products from the US to the UK to sell to Chinese contacts from 2010.

By 2011 museums and auction houses across Britain and Europe were hit by the odd crime spree when burglars broke in to target rhino horns or Chinese artefacts made from jade.

Over twelve months, an estimated ninety-one rhino horns were stolen from buildings in fifteen countries.

The Great Rhino Robbery part one is on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW from January 3rd.

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