Streets in the town centre were cordoned off and a man threatening Bank Staff with a fake bomb strapped to his body caused panic on the streets of Watford was later arrested at the scene.
The three Luton men who were today jailed for 6 years each for staging dramatic Watford bank siege.
Muhammed Qasim Salam, an employee at the Co-operative bank, in Market Street, conspired with friends Feizan Rehman and Imran Khalifa to steal £161,000 in cash from the bank's safe.
St Albans Crown Court heard today that he was a fantasist who had been inspired to commit the heist by the films Ocean's 11, Heat and The Inside Man.
The court also learned how he took several steps to make sure two other male employees were away from branch on the morning of June 2.
Financial advisor Robert Hodgson was contacted by one of the defendants who said he wanted to invest £300,000. But when Mr Hodgson arrived at a meeting in Rickmansworth, nobody was there to meet him.
Salam had also discovered the address of branch manager Ivor Meyrick. Between 2.30am and 3am that morning one of his car tyres was slashed, ensuring he could not get to work on time. Mobile phone evidence put the defendants in the area at the time.
To ensure there was more cash than usual on the premises, Salam had earlier told Mr Meyrick that a customer had requested to make a £40,000 cash withdrawal on the morning of the heist.
When the bank opened at 9.30 am Feizan Rehman entered, wearing a long dark jacket and a hat. Salam directed him into a side office telling a female colleague that the man wanted to open a premier account.
She was then kept busy with a hoax telephone call as the pair made their way to the vault.
The cash was then bundled into a bag and Rehman left unchallenged and took a taxi to meet Khalifa, who was waiting in a hired getaway car. The pair then made their way back to Luton.
Salam then went to the bank's foyer and dialled 999.
In the branch Salam, who appeared to be sweating and worried, banged on a desk and shouted: "Get out - everybody leave now." He was seen leaning over a counter with his shoes off and a trouser leg rolled up to the knee. Attached was a black box with a memory board and two wires protruding.
He also telephoned a colleague in Luton a said "I think I am going to die."
The staff were evacuated at 10.18am, with some running in tears from the bank.
Timothy Clark, counsel for Salam, said: "The plot followed the script of the film The Inside Man. Mr Rehman came into the bank with two bags. The plan was to hide the money in one bag in the ceiling of the bank for Mr Salem to collect it later. But the ceiling space was not large enough and the co-defendant had to leave with the money."
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