Three men, said to be part of a gang targeted sleeping truckers on the A55 through North Wales to steal their fuel, have been jailed.

A court heard how a driver preparing to sleep in his cab on Sunday night was woken by a man syphoning diesel from his truck parked in a lay-by at Dobshill in Flintshire.

The driver raised the alarm as they made off in a vehicle.

When their van was stopped police found a large number of fuel containers and a syphoning tool.

All five occupants were arrested and the trio, all said to be members of the travelling community, were jailed after they admitted the theft of diesel on Sunday night.

Anthony McDonagh, 38, Patrick Doyle, 23, and Jason Doyle, 38, all of no fixed abode but who were said to have come across from Ireland and parked their caravans with their families in the Ellesmere Port area intending to go gardening work, each received six week prison sentences.

Deputy district judge Timothy Gasgoyne also banned all three from driving for a year because a vehicle had been used as part of the offending.

The judge said they had targeted vulnerable victims, truckers sleeping in their cabs at the time.

Truckers, he said, would not doubt be concerned to find people breaking into their fuel tanks and stealing diesel in such circumstances.

He dismissed their explanations that it had been opportunistic as not being credible.

Prosecutor James Neary told Flintshire Magistrates Court that the A55 was a lifeline through North Wales and was used to supply goods from Ireland into Europe.

It was regularly used by truckers, including foreign drivers, who were vulnerable at night when they parked up in order to rest, he said.

He said that there were clearly elements of sophistication.

It was a group action and it was clear that the defendants had been prepared with containers and a syphoning tool.

Mr Neary told how police received a call shortly before 10 pm on Sunday from a driver who said he was parked in a lay-by in Dobshill with a Spanish lorry parked behind him.

He was preparing to sleep when he became aware of a man appearing to syphon fuel from his tank.

The driver also saw two other men and was able to give the registration number and a description of the panel van in which they left the scene.

Police later saw the vehicle travelling at speed without lights and when stopped there was a strong smell of diesel coming from inside the vehicle.

All five occupants were arrested and police found a total of 14 containers which had about 400 litres of diesel inside them.

Under the bonnet was a syphoning tool and police also recovered a hand pump.

Interviewed, the defendants tried to blame the foreign drivers who they alleged had offered them fuel for cash.

But they had abandoned the claim and pleaded guilty in court, said Mr Neary.

Probation officer Tracey Flavell said she had interviewed all three defendants in the cells and they told her how the had come over from Ireland and were planning to return after they had been doing gardening work in the region.

All three fully accepted their involvement.

Defence solicitor Simon Simmons told the Mold court his clients had no previous convictions.

All three were married with children and were in the region to offer gardening services.

They had all pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and he suggested suspended sentences.

He said: “They tell me this was opportunistic.”

They had drums in the back, saw the vehicles, stopped and “took a chance”.

Mr Simmons said all three wished to apologise for what they had done.

Two other men pleaded not guilty to theft and their cases were adjourned for trial in April.