Paweł was lured from his homeland by a Polish trafficking ring and their co-conspirators in Britain – the gang responsible for the largest modern slavery prosecution in UK history. The investigation that brought them down, sparked by Hope for Justice, was known as Operation Fort and it is thought there could have been up to 400 victims.
He came because of the promise of accommodation, work and a better life. But Paweł was then controlled, intimidated and threatened, and had most of his wages taken away from him.
But despite his ordeal, he says: “I don’t want to dwell on the past. I want to surround myself with love and good.” You can watch the interview with Paweł below:
In early 2015, one of Hope for Justice’s team, working alongside a support worker, recognised there were victims in his area within the Polish community.
Our investigators shared intelligence with West Midlands Police, and similarities were quickly spotted in victims’ stories, suggesting an organised criminal conspiracy.
We then worked alongside police officers and detectives throughout the ensuing three-year investigation. With other partners including the National Crime Agency (NCA), together we identified 92 victims, although we believe there were as many as 400 people in total who were forced to work in factories, on farms and at recycling centres for precious little pay, often equating to about 50p an hour. Their traffickers and the co-conspirators kept the rest.
Hope for Justice’s Advocacy team continues to support many of the survivors, who showed incredible strength and resilience when they gave evidence during the first two trials. In July 2019, eight members of the gang were sentenced to a combined 55 years for slavery, trafficking and money laundering offences. We also continue to support survivors who gave evidence in the third trial, at which three more people were convicted.
Our involvement has been described by police as: “…instrumental in taking apart this organised crime network. The perseverance shown by Hope for Justice, to get the best outcome for all of the victims they supported, is testament to the outstanding work they do.”
Following on from the convictions at the third ‘Operation Fort’ trial, Tim Nelson, CEO of Hope for Justice, said: “Human traffickers profit from misery and desperation, exploiting vulnerabilities in good people. This exploitation is often perpetuated by those who choose to look the other way, fail to live up to their responsibilities or, worse, become actively complicit. 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. Hope for Justice is proud of our role in working alongside West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring an end to this particular network’s activities, and in assisting the survivors, supporting them towards their preferred futures.”
One of those convicted was a 54-year-old British man, David Handy of Oxford Street, Stoke-on-Trent, who set up a recruitment agency to supply a major parcels firm. According to West Midlands Police, Handy “was able to maximise the profits his company made by skimming off some of his victims’ earnings before paying wages directly into their exploiters’ bank accounts. He also received a back-hander from those exploiters for agreeing to find work placements for victims who were under their control. It’s believed Handy made over £500,000 which he used to pay off his mortgage and other debts, and was able to amass savings of around £400,000.”
Mateus Natkowski, 29, was also convicted at Coventry Crown Court in June 2021. Lukasz Wywrinski, 38, pleaded guilty on 11 May 2021.
West Midlands Police analysed 650,000 lines of telephone data, 250 bank accounts, more than 3,000 exhibits – including bank statements and benefits claims – and 1,500 witness statements in addition to accounts taken from survivors, many supported by Hope for Justice. Three survivors we are supporting gave evidence at this latest trial, accompanied by Hope for Justice Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs).
The judge praised the “meticulous detective work” that led to the arrests and convictions.
Neil Fielding, Specialist Prosecutor from CPS West Midlands Complex Casework Unit, said: “The extent to which this gang callously exploited and deprived their victims of basic human rights is truly appalling. The scale of the suffering they inflicted on huge numbers of mainly vulnerable people is difficult to comprehend. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many witnesses who gave evidence in this series of trials for their bravery in coming forwards and for continuing to support the case. I would also like to thank the Polish authorities for their assistance in this case.”
Paweł* says he shared his story because: “It is not the end. I have to help catch more of them.”
Speaking of the support which Hope for Justice gave him, Paweł says: “If this organisation did not exist, I may not be alive now.”
West Midlands Police Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale led the investigation. He said after the latest convictions: “It’s really important businesses know where their workforce is coming from, be intrusive and ask questions. Otherwise they could be fuelling the exploitation of vulnerable victims.”
Hope for Justice would like to thank Paweł and the other survivors who have spoken out about their experiences for their incredible courage.
We remain absolutely committed to supporting the survivors every step of the way as they rediscover their freedom.
*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity