Four men jailed for smuggling £41m of cocaine on private jet into Farnborough airport

Four men have been jailed for smuggling half a ton of cocaine worth more than £41m into the UK on a private jet.

Fifteen suitcases containing the class A drug were discovered at Hampshire's Farnborough Airport after a flight arrived from Colombia.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the group, who worked as bricklayers and waiters, posed as "high-flying businessmen, using luxury cars, hotels and even a private jet to try and pull off a plot they thought would make them millions".

Martin Neil, from Poole in Dorset, Spanish national Victor Franco-Lorenzo, of Bournemouth, and Italian Alessandro Iembo, who also lived in Bournemouth, were each jailed for 24 years at Woolwich Crown Court.

Jose Ramon Miguelez-Botas from Spain was jailed for 20 years.

Neil's brother Stephen Neil, from Poole, was found not guilty.

The trial heard Martin Neil, 49, Iembo, 28, and Franco-Lorenzo, 40, made an initial three-day trip to Bogota in Colombia last December.

They posed as businessmen involved in the world of cryptocurrency and claimed they were travelling to meet US singer Bruno Mars as part of their work in the music industry.

A chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Phantom was arranged to collect the trio when they returned to Farnborough on 11 December.

They brought back a number of suitcases from the trip, but none were searched on that occasion.

The following month, the four convicted men flew to Colombia after taking off from Luton on a private jet.

When they returned on 29 January, officials searched past dirty clothes in the group's suitcases to find 513 blocks of cocaine with a purity of around 79%.

NCA operations manager Siobhan Micklethwaite said it was "one of the largest flown into the UK by plane in many years".

Following a trial at Woolwich Crown Court, the jury deliberated for more than 13 hours before returning verdicts on Thursday.

The four convicted men were found guilty of fraudulent evasion of a prohibition in relation to a class A controlled drug, between 30 October last year and 30 January.