Eight offenders from two Polish organised criminal gangs have been convicted of slavery, trafficking and money-laundering offences today after the UK's largest-ever modern slavery network was exposed.
Operation Fort, led by DCI Nick Dale from West Midlands Police, uncovered the Birmingham-based network after two victims escaped and were supported by Hope for Justice.
Hundreds of vulnerable victims had been trafficked from Poland with the promise of well-paid jobs.
When they arrived in the UK, they were forced to live in squalor and work long days in farms and factories. The gang forced their victims to open bank accounts in order to control their wages. The victims made up to £20 a day whilst their perpetrators made more than £2m between 2012 and 2017.
92 potential victims of modern slavery were identified, although police believe that up to 400 victims in total were exploited by the gang.
Eight offenders have been jailed after being convicted in two trials of crimes including trafficking, conspiracy to require another to perform forced labour and money laundering. Their sentences range from three to 11 years.
Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:
“Modern slavery is a crime in which individuals are cruelly exploited for little or no pay, often whilst enduring horrific living or working conditions.
Sadly, modern slavery is not a thing of the past. Every year, the number of suspected victims of modern slavery rises, and labour exploitation is the most common form of abuse. In 2018, 3,980 adult and child victims of suspected labour exploitation were identified. It is likely that the true figure is even higher.
In this case, at least 100 vulnerable Polish nationals were trafficked to the UK under the false pretence of well-paid work. Instead, they were forced to work as slaves and threatened with violence if they refused. They were even brainwashed by their traffickers to distrust the police who, despite this, were able to rescue them and bring their abusers to justice.
This was a complex and lengthy investigation which started after the anti-slavery charity, Hope for Justice, came across the victims at a soup kitchen. The charity notified West Midlands Police who then worked closely with The Salvation Army to safeguard the victims.
The police investigators worked tirelessly and liaised effectively with their Polish counterparts to build the case against the traffickers. They used Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders, legal restrictions on a person who may pose a risk of committing slavery offences, to prevent further exploitation whilst this case was ongoing.
This case sends a strong message to all traffickers that we will not tolerate their brutal criminality. I hope it also gives confidence to victims that they will be supported and that justice will be done.”