Leaders of modern day slavery ring with 390 victims are jailed
A British court has jailed eight leaders of a trafficking ring that enslaved hundreds of Polish victims in the largest modern slavery prosecution of its kind.
The ring lured its victims to Britain with the false promise of well-paid work and free housing, only to force them to work long days with little pay. Those who tried to leave were assaulted or threatened, authorities said.
A court in Birmingham sentenced three of the ringleaders for forced labour offences, money laundering and involvement in human trafficking, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.
The court sentenced the other five earlier this year on similar charges. Their sentences ranged from three to 11 years' imprisonment.
"This is the largest modern slavery prosecution of its kind in the UK and perhaps in Europe," said Mark Paul from CPS West Midlands.
"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."
Many were preyed on as they were desperate for work, homeless or had substance addictions. Victims were paid as little as 50p (55c) for a day's labour and in one case a worker was given coffee and a chicken as payment for redecorating a house.
Another man had to wash in a canal because he had no other access to water, while one house's leaky toilet had to be plugged with an old duvet, such was the standard of disrepair.
One victim, describing "horrible" living conditions, said: "I would say some homeless people here in the UK live better than I lived after I arrived over here."
Victims were reduced to recycling used cigarette butts off the street, and going to soup kitchens and food banks to get enough to eat.
Local police began their investigation when anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice noticed an increasing number of Polish people coming to their soup kitchen and alerted authorities.
The CPS said 88 victims had come forward to police, but there were likely to be at least 300 others who had been enslaved and threatened with violence if they tried to escape.
The slavemasters lived a lavish lifestyle and made more than £2m (€2.3m) by doing things like withholding wages and forcing their victims to claim government benefits before keeping the money themselves, the CPS added.
"The gang not only stole the victims' money but took away their freedom, using threats and violence to bully them and control their lives," said Mr Paul.
"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."
A jury at Birmingham Crown Court convicted two men, 52-year-old Ignacy Brzezinski, of Beechwood Road, West Bromwich, and Wojciech Nowakowski (41), of James Turner Street, Birmingham, of modern slavery offences.
A third, Jan Sadowski (26), of Dartmouth Street, West Bromwich, admitted his part on the first day of trial.
Sentencing Ignacy to 11 years, Judge Mary Stacey described the "high functioning alcoholic" as having "direct control", and "living in the nerve centre of the organisation".
She said: "As the head of the family, he set the tone of the operation, and also enjoyed the fruits of the conspiracy, riding round in his Bentley and a fleet of high performance cars at his disposal.
"His life of leisure was also financed from complainants."
Jailing Nowakowski for six and a half years, Judge Stacey described him as a one-time victim of the conspiracy who had risen to become a "spy and enforcer" for the gang.
She said: "He was fully embedded and his role was to keep the conspirators in line."
Judge Stacey jailed father-of-two Sadowski - the only defendant to plead guilty - for three years for his "lesser role".