Three robbers who terrorised banks in South London were sentenced to a total of 62 years today.

The trio netted more than half a million pounds in cash during their spate of armed robberies, which date back to 2000 and included banks in Wallington, West Wickham and Beckenham.

A six-month-long intelligence-led operation by the Flying Squad, based at Tower Bridge, caught the team red handed as they prepared to rob a Santander bank in North Cheam in February.

Robert Hall, 48, of Grange Road, Thornton Heath, was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Emmet Wynne, 48, of Wilmar Gardens, West Wickham and Ian Knight, 51 of Adare Walk, Streatham, were both sentenced to 20 years in prison.

All three pleaded guilty to a combination of offences at Inner London Crown Court relating to robbery, conspiracy to rob and firearms offences.

In sentencing, Judge Mark Bishop said: “This was professionally planned, with ruthlessness and a utter disregard for the cash transit guards who were terrified.

“You targeted small banks and you waited inside for the guards to arrive.

“You robbed them of significant sums of money and you were armed with guns and firearms.

“What is clear is that you didn’t see the guards as victims. It is plain that this conduct cannot be tolerated in a decent society and the sentence must reflect that.”

When the trio were caught by police, it was after a botched attempt to rob a bank in North Cheam.

The gang got spooked when a fire was started by youths in the street nearby and they aborted the robbery and drove back to the changeover car, a stolen Audi A6 estate they had parked not far from the bank.

Wynne got into the Audi estate and Hall and Knight remained in a stolen VW Bora.

Officers pounced shortly afterwards, capturing Wynne and Hall but Knight managed to flee the scene. He was arrested one week later on 23 February.

DCI Paul Johnson, Tower Bridge Flying Squad, said: "This was a well organised team of armed robbers whose meticulous planning and otherwise normal lives managed to keep them under the radar for so many years.

"If it hadn't been for the tenacity of my officers, this team would have continued to carry out armed robberies for many more years to come. I am delighted with today's result."