An organised crime gang that planned to raid museums in Glasgow have been jailed for up to six years and eight months.

The group plotted to steal up to £57 million in rhino horn and Chinese artefacts in a series of museum raids.

Dubbed the Rathkeale Rovers because of their links to the Irish town, they targeted high-value objects in a string of break-ins, including at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum in 2012.

Judge Murray Creed heard that although the items stolen in Durham and Cambridge were valued at around £17 million, detectives believe they might have fetched more than three times that figure on the booming Chinese auction market.

The gang also carried out surveillance of the antiquities housed at the Burrell collection in Glasgow’s south side and Kelvingrove museum in the west end, but were stopped by police before they could act.

It is understood that the men visited Glasgow in March 2013 to carry out a "recce" of both the Burrell and Kelvingrove, which contain collections of rare china, artworks and other artefacts from the Far East.

The Burrell's Chinese exhibits are said to be of "outstanding significance", and make up the biggest single group of objects in it's 9,000 piece collection.

Police uncovered the gang's visit as they trawled through phone and vehicle records as part of their exhaustive investigation into the gang's activities.

It was made to size up the most valuable piece and lay the groundwork for a later raid to be carried out by other members.

Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, who led the investigation, said: "The visit would have been a recce to find out what was contained in the Glasgow museums, but would only have been the start of the chain.

"After this these men, who were the ringleaders, would have paid another group to carry out the thefts, who would have reccied the museums themselves."

Members of the same gang also masterminded an offence at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, East Sussex, and organised the disposal of stolen artefacts in what the judge said was "an extremely sophisticated conspiracy".

Sentencing seven of the 14-strong gang, Judge Creed said the criminal enterprise "involved very high value goods with significant harm caused to victims, both museums and members of the public who would otherwise have viewed the material stolen".

He added: "It is a conspiracy both sophisticated, skilled and persistent, involved significant cultural loss to the UK of museum quality artefacts and items from international collections."