THREE men have been jailed for attaching a card skimming device to a cash machine in Chester city centre.

Iliuta-Gheorghe Balica, 32, Ionut Bunoaica, 22, and Liviu Zagorschi, 33, also attached a small camera near the card slot of the ATM at Barclays bank on St Werburgh Street.

They hoped to steal people’s card details and PIN numbers but their plan came unstuck when one eagle-eyed customer spotted the gizmo on October 30 and called the police.

The trio, who are all Romanian nationals, were spotted on CCTV leaving the area in a car and were swiftly arrested.

Items including screwdrivers, pliers, mobile phones, a laptop and USB stick were then recovered from the car.

The three defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal during a hearing at Chester Crown Court yesterday and were each sentenced to between 12 and 13 months in prison.

Judge Simon Berkson told the defendants: “This type of crime is always very serious because it undermines the banking system and requires professionalism in order to carry it out.

“It always requires more than one person to be involved in the enterprise and that's why all three of you were involved that night.”

Outlining the case, prosecutor Mandy Nepal said a customer had tried to withdraw £70 from the machine, close to Chester Cathedral, at about 10pm.

“While he was waiting for the transaction to be completed he noted that it was taking a long time and had a feeling that something was wrong,” Miss Nepal said.

A message on the screen prompted the man to remove his card but it could not be retrieved from the card slot, which was making a “jamming noise”.

He and a friend then noticed the slot looked different to one on an adjacent machine and a closer inspection revealed a camera lens angled at the keypad.

“As a result of this discovery the police were called,” Miss Nepal said.

Officers notified city centre CCTV operators who noticed a blue Ford Mondeo parked around 100 metres away, driven by Bunoaica.

Balica and Zagorschi, who had been waiting near the cash machine, were then seen to get in before the car was driven away.

Police recovered the skimming device and a camera from the ATM and arrested the three men, who had been living in Liverpool.

Only Balica admitted the offence in police interview, saying he had been offered the equipment and had been using it for about a week.

Adrian Evans, defending Balica, said his client had lost his job and became desperate with bills to pay.

“Ultimately he was given the opportunity to make easy money,” Mr Evans said. “But it turned out to be far from easy.”

Peter Barnett, defending Bunoaica, stressed his client was by far the youngest of the trio and had previously held down a job working as a driver across Europe before moving to the UK.

Chris Hunt, defending Zagorschi, said his client had pleaded guilty on the basis he had only acted as a lookout on this one occasion.

“He only became involved as a favour to a friend,” Mr Hunt said.

All three men were of previous good character and had no previous convictions either in the UK or abroad.

Balica, of Chester Road, Liverpool, was sentenced to 12 months in prison. Bunoaica, of the same address, was jailed for 13 months, as was Zagorschi, of Dovey Street, Liverpool.