UK’s Largest People Trafficking Gang Shipped in Hundreds of Polish Migrants, Enslaved Them
Three members of a people trafficking ring that shipped hundreds of Polish migrants to the UK and forced them into slavery have been convicted.
On Friday, Coventry Crown Court found Polish nationals Mateus Natkowski, Lukasz Wywrinski, and British co-conspirator David Handy guilty of offences ranging from trafficking, labour exploitation, and forced labour for their part in operating what the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) described as “the largest human trafficking ring ever exposed in the UK”.
The court heard how the three men had lured hundreds of Polish citizens — who until the UK left the EU officially on January 1st, could have arrived visa-free under Brussels’ Free Movement rules — to the West Midlands with the promise of well-paying jobs and accommodation, according to the Birmingham Mail.
However, the reality was any but what was promised, with the economic migrants forced to live in squalor and to work long hours while receiving little of their wages, at times being physically assaulted.
In one case highlighted in court and by the publication, one Polish man was offered a £350-£450 a week job, including accommodation, in the West Midlands in February 2015.
Wywrinski and Natkowski took the migrant on his arrival to the UK to a two-bedroom house, where 11 people lived, and there was no heat, hot water, or cooking facilities.
The man was not allowed to leave the house without being supervised by Natkowski, 29. While he had opened bank accounts in the UK, he had never received his cards — thus could not access his own wages — and was given just £10 for working 12- to 13-hour days for three weeks. Wywrinski, 39, had also beaten him.
As activists weight the effects of slavery several hundred years ago… they’re shockingly silent on the horrific slavery currently happening everywhere from Tripoli to the UK.https://t.co/kH0f6nVaUi
For his part, Handy, 54, was revealed to be the front of the “legitimate employer”, providing work for those trapped by his gang in slave-like conditions.
The court found Handy guilty of one count of conspiracy to require others to undertake forced or compulsory labour, conspiracy to control another for the purpose of labour exploitation, two counts of cheating the public revenue, and conspiracy to acquire criminal property.
Natkowski was found guilty of three trafficking offences, and Wywrinski had already pleaded guilty to 11 trafficking offences in May.
Paul McAnulty from the charity Hope for Justice said: “Human traffickers profit from misery and desperation, exploiting vulnerabilities in good people… Employers, retailers, labour providers, landlords, banks, consumers, all of us owe a duty of care – we must all shine a light on the abhorrent crime of modern slavery.”
This is not the first time that convictions have arisen for crimes related to modern slavery facilitated by EU Freedom of Movement. In September 2017, Polish national Jonatan Majewski pleaded guilty to bringing four of his own countrymen into the UK and treating them like slaves. There have also been convictions in recent years for the trafficking of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens for forced labour in the UK.
Reports last year that clothing factories in Leicester were not adhering to lockdown rules, sparking a virus hotspot, also shone a light on migrants with backgrounds from the Indian sub-continent being forced to work in slave-like conditions in sweatshops.
Home Office officials began an investigation into premises in the multicultural city in July 2020 to “assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking”, with local MP Andrew Bridgen claiming that some 10,000 modern slaves were working in Leicester.
Raj Mann, the police contact for the Sikh community in Leicester, said at the time that officials were reluctant to intervene in cases of suspected modern slavery for fear of being branded racist, saying: “The local authorities have known these sweatshops exist for decades, but they’ve been loath to do anything about it for fear of being accused of picking on immigrant or refugee communities, as a lot of the exploited workers are of Indian background.”
Mr Mann also made the shocking observation that the South Asian community will also not intervene in suspected cases of employment exploitation, saying: “Within the Asian community, people generally turn a blind eye to workers in the community who are on less than the minimum wage. They see it as being better than earning nothing at all.”
A report released in July 2020 estimated that some 100,000 slaves are working across the UK, while a March 2021 report claimed there were 10,000 suspected cases in the preceding year alone.