Photo Credit: Press Association
A businessman from Kirklees has been sentenced to two years and three months in prison after becoming the first business owner in the UK to be convicted of a human trafficking offence.
Mohammed Rafiq, 60, of Thorncliffe Road, Staincliffe, Batley, was convicted following a trial at Leeds Crown Court of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel within the UK for exploitation.
The case came off the back of the sentencing in May 2014 of Hungarian nationals Janos Orsos and Ferenc Ille to five years and three years’ imprisonment respectively for human trafficking offences. Their offending came to light after one victim who had left West Yorkshire made contact with charity Hope for Justice who in turn contacted West Yorkshire Police.
Following the sentencing of Orsos and Illes, officers launched a further investigation in to the companies that employed the victims trafficked in to the UK by the pair to determine any liabilities held by them.
Rafiq was arrested in October 2014 and charged in November 2014.
Ten victims gave statements during the trial saying they had been trafficked in to the country and put to work at either the Kozee Sleep factory in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, or the Layzee Beds factory in Batley. Both companies come under the parent company Hick Lane Bedding which Rafiq is owner and managing director of.
A number of the victims told police officers that Rafiq was aware that their wages were being paid to Orsos, with him then paying the men around £10-a-week pocket money. Several of the victims said they spoke to Rafiq about this and asked to be paid directly but were told to take it up with Orsos.
An industrial accident took place at the Layzee Beds factory in May 2012 involving one of the Hungarian workers who was ordered to use a forklift truck to take a waste bin outside to empty. The pulley device was missing so he had to climb up to empty it manually. As he did so he fell and the waste bin fell on top of him, crushing his left foot which had to be amputated at hospital. The victim was later told by Orsos that he had managed to get £15,000 from Rafiq as compensation for the accident, the majority of which was kept by Orsos with a smaller amount paid to the victim. The incident was not reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
Rafiq is also owner of Hick Lane Properties which owns a property called Gothic House in Batley where a number of the Hungarian workers were housed. A Housing Solutions Officer for Kirklees Council along with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service visited Gothic House on 19 April, 2011 and determined that there were in excess of 45 people living at the address. They saw a large number of residents at the property and a large number of mattresses. The following day, an emergency prohibition order was served on the property.
The house where the Hungarians found themselves living. Photo Credits: West Yorkshire Police
In a statement given to the police, one of the victims states that he lived at Gothic House for two to three years and that there were 53-54 people living there with 14 in his room. He heard that Orsos was paying Rafiq £600 per month rent. A number of victims gave accounts of Rafiq visiting Orsos at Gothic House; therefore he would have been aware of the living conditions.
Ben Cooley, CEO of Hope for Justice, said: “West Yorkshire Police set an example for the nation today. Prosecutions like this are extremely rare; most cases in the UK never come before a court because of the many barriers faced by victims overcoming such a traumatic experience. It’s a painful reality we have to change if we want to end slavery for good.”
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, of Protective Services Crime, said: “We hope that this case sends a strong message to those complicit in the trafficking of people into the UK that we will pursue those recruiting a workforce by such means.
“Rafiq has consistently denied any knowledge of the exploitation of the Hungarian men working at his factories and living in cramped and unsafe conditions in one of his properties. His claims did not wash with the police and have not washed with the jury who have tried this case.
“These men came to this country on false promises and on arrival were put to work in Rafiq’s factories for abysmally low wages. Around half of these men have since left the UK.
“We don’t want this to be the experience of anyone living and working in this country.
Human trafficking has no place in our communities and we would urge anyone with concerns to please report them to the police so that they can be acted upon.
“We know from experience that victims of human trafficking can either be wary or feel unable to report their exploitation to the police or other agencies due to a number of factors such as distrust of authority, language barriers and concern about what will happen to them if they do.
“It is worth highlighting that any person who comes forward, or is identified by police or another agency as a potential victim of human trafficking or modern slavery, will be referred in to the National Referral Mechanism which puts support in place for victims, including providing them with safe accommodation. As part of this process, the victim is given 45 days to begin to recover from their ordeal and reflect on what they want to do next, including whether they want to co-operate with police enquiries or return home.
“A key part of this investigation was building up the trust of the Hungarian victims involved and ensuring that they were supported throughout the criminal justice process. We hope that today’s sentencing provides some closure for them as they continue to rebuild their lives both here in the UK and back in Hungary.”
West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “This case demonstrates the exceptional and ground breaking work being undertaken by West Yorkshire Police (WYP), the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and our partners to unearth and catch the perpetrators of human trafficking offences and to help rescue and protect often unwitting and very vulnerable victims.
“The sentence handed out to Mohammed Rafiq shows that the courts are taking this sort of exploitation activity seriously and also highlights how West Yorkshire is leading the way in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking through our proactive strategy put in place nearly two years ago.
“While Rafiq was initially charged a while ago the establishment of the dedicated WYP Human Trafficking Unit, and the investment into that unit, as well as the West Yorkshire Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery Network, and now the National Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery Network ensures that perpetrators have no place to hide.
“Victims need to know that in West Yorkshire the resources and support are in place to protect them and to deal with cases such as these. I would also urge anyone with suspicions of human trafficking activity taking place in their community or workplace to contact the police with their concerns no matter how it may seem.”
Joint statement from West Yorkshire Police and Hope for Justice.