Six men behind a “well planned and sophisticated” robbery at a West Bromwich bank were today starting a combined jail term of almost 60 years.
Three stormed the Co-op bank, High Street, at opening time, threatened two female staff with batons and fled in a car driven by a fourth member with £130,000.
Two others organised the raid – but used a gym at the M5 junction one, West Bromwich, as a lookout and to provide an alibi if caught.
After a seven-week trial, all six were convicted of conspiracy to rob by a Warwickshire Crown Court jury in January. At Birmingham Crown Court, Judge Simon Drew QC gave Shakeel Rafiq, aged 31, of Roebuck Lane, West Bromwich to 10 years and said he was an “orchestrator.”
He got information about the bank while in a relationship with bank employee Natalie Mashhadi – present at the branch during the attack.
He and Mohammed Masud, 30, of Roebuck Lane, West Bromwich, Rafiq recruited a London team for the raid – later paying them £40,000 from the stolen cash. Masud got five years.
The team were Ashley Douglas, 29, of Lambeth, twins Ibrahim and Akim Lyazi, 19, of Tooting, and Jamal Mahmood, 23, of Wandsworth. Douglas got a 12-year sentence. Others got ten.
All the men denied conspiracy to rob but five, excluding Masud, admitted conspiracy to steal.
They said Ms Mashhadi and fellow robbery victim Rebecca Maxam were part of the plot – but jurors deemed the raid to be a robbery.
Judge Drew said: “Mr Rafiq heard about the one branch and how the branch was clearly vulnerable to attack – he played a key part and it seems to me that he was central to the plan.
“This was a well planned and professionally executed plan. This case involved a serious breach of trust involving inside information by a bank employee. The other victim was a vulnerable person, a woman opening up a bank and surrounded by those involved in the operation.”
The jury saw CCTV footage of the Lyazi brothers and Douglas, with faces covered, enter as the bank opened on Saturday, November 26, 2011.
Women were seen being grabbed and forced into the back. They were then told to hand over keys for the strongroom where cash was stored.
Banknotes were stuffed into holdalls before the three got into a BMW driven by Mahmood.
Five were arrested in following days. Ibrahim Lyazi escaped as police arrived but dropped a bag with £40,000, leaving notes spread across the street. He was eventually arrested in June.
Afterwards Chief Inspector Paul Bett said: “We welcome the sentences and hope it sends out a clear message. If people commit violent criminal acts we will we pursue them and bring them before the courts.”
The bank today welcomed the sentence. A statement said: "We welcome the sentences given at Birmingham Crown Court this week following an incident at our former branch in West Bromwich.
"Whilst we are unable to share specific details, security and the welfare of our colleagues are of the utmost importance to us, and we keep all such arrangements under regular review to safeguard colleagues at all times"