An Altrincham man was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in a gang which attempted to import a Class A drug into the UK inside a container of bananas.

Robert Ball was arrested alongside his accomplices after officers from Border Force discovered almost 140kg of cocaine, worth more than £10 million, last year.

According to the National Crime Agency (NCA) Ball was the one to arrange the collection of the container at the port of London Gateway, and the transportation of the container to a storage site in The Midlands, after its arrival from South America.

Messenger Newspapers: Robert Ball

He and his accomplices – Arman Kaviani, Florjan Ibra and Mirgent Shahu – were unaware of the discovery made by officers from Border Force.

The four men arrived at the storage site on Good Friday last year, where they were arrested as they started to unload the Class A drug. However, it had been removed, and the container had been resealed.

Kaviani, from London, and Ibra, of no fixed address, admitted the importation of cocaine while Ball, from Altrincham, and Shahu, from Birmingham, were convicted of the importation of cocaine after a trial.

Messenger Newspapers: L to R: Arman Kaviani, Florjan Ibra, Mirgent Shahu

Ball and Shahu were sentenced to 18 years in prison this week while Kaviani and Ibra were sentenced to 13 years, six months, in prison and 12 years, nine months, in prison respectively.

Afterwards NCA Operations Manager David Phillips said: "Ball and Shahu oversaw the nuts and bolts of this conspiracy on behalf of the organised crime group behind it. This organised crime group enlisted the assistance of Ibra and Kaviani who they hoped would retrieve the drugs and make their efforts worthwhile.

"Unfortunately for these men NCA officers were watching their every move before moving in to arrest them.

"Cocaine fuels violence, including gang culture, gun crime and knife crime in the UK and around the world.

"Removing this consignment from circulation will have been a sizeable blow to this criminal network preventing them from generating profits which would have been invested in criminality. We are determined to dismantle international crime groups like this one from top to bottom."

This article was written by Jack Tooth. To contact him, email or follow @JTRTooth on Twitter.