The masterminds behind a string of jewellery shop robberies in Richmond have been jailed.

Thirty professional criminals carried out armed raids across London and the home counties, smashing their way into stores with sledgehammers and axes, netting a total of £3.6m.

They have since come undone, however, thanks partly to pensioner William Grove, who made national headlines when he tackled a balaclava-wearing teenager as he broke into Ernest Jones in George Street, Richmond, on October 30, 2008.

Mr Grove, then aged 84, won police awards for his bravery but died less than a year later.

Other members of the gang, now known to be Britain's biggest network of robbery gangs, targeted the same store on June 23 and November 12, 2008.

The five ringleaders, responsible for a total of 34 raids, were James Stewart, 28, of Fair Meadows, brothers Billy, 28, and Danny Johnson, 29, of Peckham, Anthony Bado, 28, of Bournemouth, and John Chambers, 35, of Bromley. A total of 17 members of their gangs were jailed at Kingston Crown Court for a total of 130 years yesterday, and the remainder of the 30 face sentence today.

They carried out armed robberies in southern England, London suburbs, the west country and East Anglia every fortnight between January 2008 and May 2009, including the three in less than five months at Ernest Jones, Richmond.

They smashed their way into the shops, sometimes armed with knives, a gun and CS spray and usually fled within 60 seconds.

In a separate case, robbers who raided Horton Jewellers in Paved Court, Richmond, on February 5 last year were also jailed at Kingston Crown Court yesterday.

Two masked men wearing boiler suits burst into the shop and terrified customers and staff as they pointed a handgun at them and threatened to shut up a screaming two-year-old child.

They smashed display cabinets with a hammer, showering a youngster in a buggy with glass, and stole jewellery worth £150,000.

They then ran out of the door towards Richmond Green and jumped into a waiting car.

Ringleader Lee Byer, 32, of Bollo Lane, west London, was described as a “Fagin-type character” who recruited and organised four young robbers to target stores in Victoria and Richmond.

The five pleaded guilty at Kingston Crown Court in August and October last year and were jailed for a total of 41 years yesterday.

Detective Chief Inspector Pam Mace, head of the Metropolitan Police’s flying squad, based in Barnes, said: "Lee Byer was a prominent and influential figure within west London crime circles. He controlled a violent gang of young men, directing them to commit high value commercial robberies and regarded himself as untouchable.

"The lengthy and complex investigation by the flying squad, with the support of local borough officers, has resulted in all five pleading guilty, reflecting the compelling evidence gathered against them.

"I would like to pay tribute to the victims, including very young children, who have been severely traumatised by the actions of this gang."

CCTV footage of the robbery at Horton Jewellers, in Richmond, on February 5, 2010: