A gang of Lithuanian thugs travelled to Britain with the sole purpose of raiding a family jeweller in Cornwall, a court heard.
Armed with crowbars, pepper spray and a gun, they stole £1million worth of gems from the shop.
The day before, four of the men flew to the UK, posing as migrant workers. They told passport control staff they were going to work for a clothing recycling firm owned by Gytis Inokaitis, who had spent three months planning the raid with mastermind Andrius Buinevicius.
CCTV footage shows Lithuanian gang raiding Michael Spiers Jewellers in Truro, Cornwall
After landing at Bristol Airport, they were driven 155 miles to Truro, a quiet city known for its low crime rate.
The next morning they burst into Michael Spiers Jewellers and, holding petrified staff at gunpoint, used crowbars to prise open cabinets containing Rolex watches and diamonds.
Shop manager David Brignall said: ‘I put my hands in the air and shouted, ‘Please don’t hurt anyone, take what you need, no one will stop you.’
They burst into Michael Spiers Jewellers and, holding petrified staff at gunpoint
‘The first male came through the door and had what I believed to be a gun of some form. As he came through he went towards a colleague on the shop floor and shouted ‘down’, before walking towards me pointing the pistol.
‘Initially I put my hands up and tried to keep contact, shouting ‘don’t hurt anyone, nobody will stop you’ over and over.’
He added: ‘After he shouted ‘down’, liquid was sprayed at me, hitting me in the chest and neck. I was short of breath and my eyes were streaming. I still had my hands up and went down on my knees.
‘Other than shouting ‘down’, I didn’t hear them say anything else. It was all actions and body language to communicate. They knew what they were doing.’
The robbery, which was captured on CCTV, was over in two minutes.
The fled in a Renault Laguna, which they ditched for a Ford Mondeo before speeding off down the A30 towards Exeter. They had hoped to make it to the airport to board flights to Lithuania but were caught by police using CCTV and number-plate recognition technology.
Two of the raiders were arrested on the A30 near Launceston on the day of the heist, January 10, and another two in Bristol the day after having taken a train from St Austell, Cornwall.
Buinevicius, one of the gang leaders, was caught at Luton Airport on the day of the raid, as he was about to board a flight home to Lithuania.
The stolen goods – including 12 Patek Philippe watches, 16 Rolexes and an assortment of diamond jewellery – have never been recovered.
Haroldas Ivanovas, 20, Rogertas Slekaitis, 25, Saulius Mickus, 28, and Tomas Bakierskis, 24, were convicted at Truro Crown Court last week of conspiracy to rob and using an imitation firearm with the intent of causing fear of violence.
Ivanovas was sentenced to seven years in a young offenders’ institute, Slekaitis and Bakierskis were jailed for nine-and-a-half years and Mickus for eight years.
The four lived in deprived, crime-riddled parts of Lithuania and were recruited with the promise of making quick money.
Buinevicius, 41, from Lithuania, and Inokaitis, 35 from Plymouth, were also found guilty of conspiracy to rob and sentenced to a total of 29 years in prison after a two-week trial.
Jurors were told Buinevicius, a farmer from Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, came to the UK twice in October last year to buy the getaway vehicles and to research and plan the routes.
It is thought the Michael Spiers shop was targeted because Inokaitis had local knowledge of the area, including getaway routes.
Father-of-one Inokaitis was also from Kaunas, where former schoolmates described him as a ‘drifter unable to hunker down in the same place for long’.
Before moving to the UK, where he owns three rental homes, he had lived in Norway and Sweden.
Inokaitis said he first came into contact with Buinevicius around September last year, and insisted their discussions related to his clothing recycling business.
The VAT-registered firm works with charities including the NSPCC to send unwanted clothing to countries such as Ukraine.
Sentencing the two men, Judge Carr said: ‘Andrew Buinevicius, the sat-nav in your car showed you circling the jewellers and other areas of the plot, including the car park where the cars were exchanged.
‘It’s clear you took significant part in planning and the recruiting of those who took part. It is, though, conceivable that people further up were directing things from Lithuania.’
He told Inokaitis: ‘You ran a very successful business that not only provided you with knowledge but presented you with a front the robbery could hide behind. An integral part of your business was people coming from Lithuania and you putting them up, often staying for short periods.
‘You had in place the opportunity to explain it as an innocent business and I have no doubt you were recruited rather than being an instigator, but you were actively engaged thereafter.’
Det Insp Pete Found, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: ‘This was one of the largest armed robberies we have seen. I hope the sentence can bring about some sense that justice has been served.’