Eight members of a modern slavery trafficking gang have been convicted of slavery, trafficking and money-laundering offences during two trials, during which more than 50 victims first identified by Hope for Justice – many supported by us ever since – bravely gave evidence. The court heard the traumatic stories of almost 100 victims of the gang. Hope for Justice and police believe there could be 400 victims in all.
Ben Cooley, Hope for Justice’s co-founder and CEO, said: “We are incredibly proud of the role that Hope for Justice’s investigators, outreach workers and Advocacy team played in securing these convictions. This was a vast criminal conspiracy profiting from the misery and manipulation of vulnerable human beings. Our team has had a major role in identifying them, sharing key intelligence with West Midlands Police, supporting the victims over months and years as they sought to establish new lives in freedom, and helping them through this complex criminal justice process. While the victims can never get back what the traffickers took from them – financially, emotionally, physically and psychologically – we hope that the knowledge their abusers are now behind bars will help them as they move on with their lives.”
(Image courtesy West Midlands Police)
Five members of the gang have already been jailed, with sentences of between four-and-a-half years, up to 11 years. Three more people are set to be sentenced later today, including one who has fled justice.
Victims supported by Hope for Justice had been forced by the gang to live and work in atrocious conditions, in squalid houses often with no heating or hot water, leaking toilets, infested by rats. They were put to work in the construction industry, factories and other places, and paid nothing at all or a tiny sliver of what they had earned, with the traffickers controlling everything. The gang used intimidation, threats and violence to keep their victims under control.
The case has attracted substantial and widespread media interest:
The investigation began in 2015, shortly after Hope for Justice set up its regional investigative Hub in the West Midlands. Victims were first identified when they started showing up at a local soup kitchen, where workers had been trained by our charity to ‘spot the signs’ and how to respond effectively. Our investigators shared intelligence with police and quickly spotted commonalities in victims’ stories suggesting an organised criminal conspiracy. Over time, more than 50 victims were identified directly by our outreach workers and investigators.
Hope for Justice strongly believes that improving victim care is key to achieving more successful prosecutions and convictions like today’s. Victims often do not want to engage with police or the criminal justice process until and unless they feel safe and supported. The long-term work done by our Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) is vital in achieving this. Our IMSAs have continued to support many of the victims of this case for months and even years, including 10 who were supported in court while giving their testimony about their experiences.
Over half of those we supported to give evidence are now in employment or supported employment. For some, the recovery process is still very much ongoing.
When Hope for Justice first met Pawel (name changed for protection of identity), he was at risk of homelessness and was being sent debt letters for welfare benefits which had been fraudulently taken out by traffickers in his name. Two years later and with the support of an Independent Modern Slavery Advocate, Pawel is living in a beautiful two-bed flat with his partner and their child. He now works full-time to support his family and is no longer chased by bailiffs for debts accrued by traffickers in his name. When asked today about how he would describe the support that Hope for Justice have given him over the years, Pawel said: “Hope for Justice has helped me so much that there are no words to describe how grateful I am, I’m very happy.”
Pawel was a key witness in the criminal trials and his identity remains protected as he wishes to move on with his life, knowing that justice has been served.
One victim who was identified by and supported by Hope for Justice bravely chose to speak publicly to media about his experiences:
Judge Mary Stacey, presiding, praised police and Hope for Justice’s “absolutely remarkable” work, adding: “One wonders how long this would have gone undetected and flourished, otherwise.” She asked the Hope for Justice outreach worker who first identified the gang to stand in court and commended him for his actions.
Hope for Justice’s investigation and aftercare work here in the UK, and our team of Independent Modern Slavery Advocates, are funded by donations from generous people who want to see an end to human trafficking. If you can contribute to this work, please visit www.hopeforjustice.org/donate