A GANG used special keys to steal money from fruit machines across Essex...until they were a caught with a car filled with more than £1,700 in pound coins.
The trio had been stealing the cash from machines in Benfleet, Leigh, Billericay and further afield.
Daniel Craig, Samuel Dayman and Luke Ruskin were stopped in a Vauxhall Astra at the Dartford Crossing because a police officer thought they were behaving strangely, and seemed to be avoiding his police car.
He searched their car and found £1,766 of pound coins inside shoes and in the dashboard console.
Inside a black glove were some security keys and lock picking equipment.
Police then discovered £351 had been stolen from a fruit machine at the Red Lion in Billericay, £542.10 from machines at the Sarah Moore pub in Leigh, £342 from Rileys snooker centre in Benfleet and £183 from the Swan Inn Pub in Newbury, Berkshire.
In each case the pub staff did not have access to the fruit machines as they were owned by Sceptre Leisure who held the keys.
Craig, 23, of Hardy Crescent, Wimborne, Dayman, 23, of Abbotsbury Road, Broadstone, both in Dorset, and Rudkin, 24, of Westbury Road, Bournemouth, pleaded guilty to four theft charges and one of going equipped for theft.
District Judge John Woollard said from the cash seized it would appear more premises had bern targeted, but was told more charges hadn't been pursued because of a lack of evidence.
He said:" It's an organised and systematic theft."
Roger Nield, mitigating, said the men had done it because of financial difficulties and were remorseful. Rudkin also suffered from a gambling addiction and mental health issues.
They were all given 12 month community order with 100 hours unpaid work, a thinking skills programme, £95 costs, and banned from driving for nine months.
They must also pay £178 compensation each to the Swann Inn and Red Lion.
The other pubs will be paid with money seized by police.