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Convictions in largest modern slavery prosecution

10 July 2019

A POLISH human-trafficking ring have been jailed after the CPS concluded the UK’s largest ever modern slavery prosecution and what is believed to be the largest prosecution of its type in Europe.

Three people have been sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court, following the imprisonment of five others earlier this year.

Many hundreds of vulnerable victims - often homeless and suffering from addictions - were lured from Poland to Birmingham with the promise of free accommodation and well-paid employment.

When they arrived by coach the reality was starkly different. The traffickers housed their victims in cramped, substandard accommodation and gave them so little food that many were forced to attend soup kitchens. The workers were paid as little as £10 a week for jobs including picking onions, making fencing and sorting parcels.

Mark Paul, head of complex casework unit, CPS West Midlands, said, “This is the largest modern slavery prosecution of its kind in the UK and perhaps in Europe.

“The scale of the operation was truly staggering, with millions of pounds netted by the crime group as a result of their callous and systematic exploitation of vulnerable members of the Polish community.

“88 victims came forward but the investigation revealed in excess of 300 other probable victims. Vulnerable men and women were recruited off the streets in Poland with the promise of a better life, only to be cruelly exploited and trapped into a desperate cycle of dependency with nowhere else to go.”

On 22 February 2019, Marek Chowaniec, 30, Marek Brezinski, 29, and Natalia Zmuda, 29 were each found guilty of people trafficking and forced labour offences. On 26 June 2019, Ignacy Brzezinski and Wojciech Nowakowski were convicted for their involvement, Jan Sadowski pleaded guilty at the beginning of trial 2 on 23 April 2019.

In total, eight defendants have been convicted for their role in the conspiracy across two trials at Birmingham Crown Court.

The traffickers also made their victims claim benefits, then kept the money. If challenged about where the rest of their money was going, the criminals claimed it was owed for travel, food and accommodation costs. Those who tried to leave were assaulted or threatened. Many victims would find themselves being moved for no reason and their property stolen.

Meanwhile their abusers used the fruits of forced labour to purchase high-end cars and other items. They are estimated to have made around £2.46m, from wages and benefits not passed onto the victims.

Mark Paul continued: “The gang not only stole the victims’ money but took away their freedom, using threats and violence to bully them and control their lives.

“That this should be happening in Britain today is shocking and we hope these convictions will help to highlight that it can happen in plain sight, and stand as another landmark in the fight against modern slavery.”

Case study

Peter and Martha (not their real names) were recruited from Poland with the promise of jobs earning £130 a week plus free food and accommodation. They were told they had only an hour to make up their minds before a bus left for Britain.

They were made to sleep with nine others in a four-bedroom house in the UK with no heating or hot water. They were paid just £20-40 for a week made up of 12-hour days in food processing and recycling plants. They were forced to ask the traffickers for loans.

Martha was told her bones would be broken if she did not work.West Midlands Police began its investigation after a tip-off from the charity Hope for Justice, which noticed an increasing number of Polish people attending one of its soup kitchens.

Such was the scale of the conspiracy, 61 victims gave evidence against a large number of defendants and the case was split into two trials.

Evidence from addresses used by the gang, particularly Beechwood Road in West Bromwich, were key to securing the convictions. Searchers uncovered vast numbers of bank cards in the names of victims and thousands of pounds in cash.