Kennedy RutoImage copyrightWest Midlands Police
Image captionKennedy Ruto denied the acquisition, retention and use of stolen property

A man has been jailed for four years after cars stolen in the UK were found in shipping containers destined for Africa.

Port police in Southampton traced a "steady flow" of stolen car shipments back to Kennedy Ruto, at Fast Safe Storage in Smethwick, police said.

The cars ranged in value from a £3,000 Ford Focus to a £72,000 Range Rover.

Ruto, 48, from Birmingham, was convicted of the acquisition, retention and use of stolen property.

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West Midlands Police said 17 cars with a value of £300,000 had been recovered.

Ruto was first arrested for handling stolen cars in 2010 after stolen vehicles that had arrived in west Africa were traced back to him.

One of the cars in a shipping containerImage copyrightWest Midlands Police
Image captionPolice said 17 vehicles had been recovered in total

He was released without charge after denying any wrongdoing, saying he had not been present when they were loaded and had been acting on customers' instructions.

But in July 2012, ports police inspected a shipment to Africa and discovered a Nissan Murano, reported stolen from Leicester in 2011; and a BMW X5, stolen from London in 2012.

Both vehicles had false registration plates.

The shipment was traced back to Ruto, from Sommerfield Road, Woodgate, and had been loaded at the storage company in Smethwick, police said.

Over several months, port authorities inspected more shipments and saw several stolen cars appearing on manifests among legal cargoes.

One of the carsImage copyrightWest Midlands Police
Image captionPort authorities inspected several shipping containers over several months

Police discovered false shipping documents, fictional addresses and bogus names, as well as photographic evidence of several of the cars at the storage business.

Investigating officer Det Con Darren Brown said: "Ruto was involved in a very lucrative business, as British cars can fetch up to four times their worth in Africa."

In an interview, Ruto - who was jailed at Shrewsbury Crown Court on Tuesday - told police he had been a manager at Fast Safe Storage, but the company disputes this.

Malik Hussain Muzafar, a manager there, said Ruto had not been an employee but had hired a unit from the firm and shipped containers abroad, including to Africa.