Logan Ntandoyenkosi Madaka, 20, got the harshest sentence after entering a ‘not guilty’ plea, while three other men escaped with lesser sentences by pleading guilty.
South African Bongane Peter, 22, will serve eight years, while brothers Donald Ajala and David Ajala were sentenced to 11 and eight years respectively.
The Cardiff Crown Court heard the men – all from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire — were caught after they did not have enough change to pay for car parking.
Detective Constable Mark Saunders, of Cathays CID in Cardiff, said the discovery of the parking ticket was the crucial breakthrough in a case that shocked experienced police officers.
Just days earlier, two of the four men pointed imitation handguns at 23-year-old Elizabeth Mann’s face and chest and snatched her handbag, which contained just £20 and a few items including a mobile phone and an umbrella.
The midnight robbery outside the Aston Martin showroom on North Road, Cardiff, on Friday, July 30, last year, was so unusual it has been described as “off the radar” by Detective Sergeant Stuart Wales, also of Cathays CID.
“It didn’t fit normal crime patterns. We just couldn’t believe someone would go to those lengths for such a low reward,” he said.
Over the next week, a team of around 10 South Wales Police detectives from Cathays CID and Roath CID worked tirelessly to trace the men.
CCTV became crucial in the hunt and in the first few days after the robbery, Detective Constable Neil Slatter trawled hours of footage, piecing together events before, during and after the robbery.
A suspicious car had been recorded by cameras near the scene of the crime. This car was then traced back to the city centre where the footage became clearer and police were able to identify it as a red Nissan Primera. But the number plate was not visible on the footage.
CCTV cameras belonging to the Aston Martin showroom had also captured the moments leading up to the robbery – footage shows two shadowy figures walking up behind Miss Mann – but the men’s faces could not be seen.
Then banks began reporting a number of hits at cash points on St Mary Street where someone had attempted to use Miss Mann’s bank cards without success.
Detectives found that in the hour or so after the robbery, a group of four men had tried to use the cards at the freestanding HSBC ATM outside McDonald’s on St Mary Street first and then moved on to Barclays further up the street and then onto NatWest.
Det Con Saunders also retraced their steps along St Mary Street while Det Con Slatter followed his progress on a live CCTV feed in the CCTV control room in Cardiff Bay, comparing it at the same time with the recorded footage from the night of the robbery.
But again, CCTV footage proved crucial and pictures taken in the reception area gave detectives their first clear look at the gang.
It also showed their callousness, as they could be seen on the Travelodge CCTV pictures hugging and patting each other on the back as they returned after the robbery.
And 11 minutes later, having changed their clothes, cameras in the hotel’s reception recorded the gang leaving to go to the cash machines on St Mary Street.
“We know now they didn’t pay properly for a car parking ticket and luckily, it’s one of those car parks where you have people going around writing out tickets.”
A copy of the parking ticket was obtained and, using the registration number, detectives discovered it was registered to Donald Ajala and his address in Aylesbury.
When armed officers from Thames Valleys Police swooped less than a week after the robbery, they found the weapons hidden under the carpet in the boot of his car.
University student and trainee pilot Logan Madaka denied the charges, claiming he knew nothing about the robbery, had stayed in the car during the incident and had simply come to Cardiff with the other men to buy a car.
“This all happened two days after Logan returned from America for his flying practise. He accepted the invitation to go to Cardiff from his friends who told him Bongane’s mother had given her son money to buy a car,” the spokesman said.
“Logan had £600 in his bank card, and had his mother’s bank card on him with over £1,000. Just how he got caught up in this is difficult to understand, but he maintains that he was not involved in the robbery.
“The sentence handed down by the judge is in the high end of what people get for this sort of crime and we are consulting lawyers with a view of launching an appeal against both conviction and sentence.”