Operation Fort: Three more jailed – Hope for Justice supports survivors
Three more people have been jailed today as part of the largest modern slavery prosecution in UK history, after eight others were convicted in July 2019 following a long-running investigation in which Hope for Justice worked closely with West Midlands Police, the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Hope for Justice is proud of our role in first detecting the trafficking network’s activities, then working with police to identify and support scores of victims to help them in their recovery and as they bravely gave evidence against the gang. Our Chief Executive Tim Nelson welcomed today’s sentencing in this BBC interview.
One of those jailed was a corrupt recruitment agent who profited from the trafficking gang’s vicious exploitation of human beings for profit.
Businesses have a key role to play in ensuring they do not inadvertently allow modern slavery and human trafficking into their supply chains, especially via recruitment agencies and labour providers but also through the products they sell. Hope for Justice’s social enterprise Slave-Free Alliance exists to help businesses protect themselves against this risk, with all profits supporting our charitable work. Many of the businesses caught up in the Operation Fort case have since sought help from Slave-Free Alliance and are now industry-leading in their anti-slavery policies and practices. Contact Slave-Free Alliance on 0300 008 0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
One survivor of modern slavery who was exploited by the gang through two years of forced labour in terrible conditions, Janusz*, gave evidence at the most recent trial. He was supported at court by his Independent Modern Slavery Advocate (IMSA) at Hope for Justice.
Full details about the case and the sentencing available in the below news release, courtesy of West Midlands Police.
Corrupt recruitment boss jailed for role in “biggest ever” slavery gang
A corrupt recruitment agent who lined his own pockets by supplying slave labour to a major parcels firm has been jailed after we linked him to a Polish trafficking gang.
David Handy made a small fortune while his exploited workforce – trafficked to the UK with false promises of wealth and a good lifestyle – lived in squalor and ended up in some cases with just £20 a week.
Handy set up recruitment firm ASAP 24/7 Ltd in May 2015 and supplied Sutton Coldfield logistics firm XDP – who he used to work for – with dozens of shop floor workers sent to him by their Polish gang masters.
The 54-year-old was able to maximise profits by skimming off some of his victims’ earnings before paying wages directly into their exploiters’ bank accounts.
He also received back-handers from the trafficking gang for agreeing to find work placements for victims who were under their control.
It’s believed Handy, from Oxford Street, Stoke-on-Trent, 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.
He denied involvement but in June a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to force people into forced labour, conspiracy to traffic people for the purpose of exploitation and money laundering.
And yesterday (24 Sept) Handy was jailed for seven years at Birmingham Crown Court.
Handy made so much money from the exploitation of workers that he brought in an accomplice, Shane Lloyd, to try and prevent his illicit gains from being discovered.
Nearly £140,000 was paid into Lloyd’s bank account, which he then cashed and passed back to Handy.
Lloyd, 47, of West Brampton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing of two counts of money laundering and was given a 20 month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
Biggest ever slavery investigation
In July 2019 we secured jail terms totalling 55 years against the Polish traffickers who we suspect brought up to 400 people to the West Midlands from their homeland. It was the biggest slavery and trafficking investigation ever in the UK.
We found victims were forced to work for a pittance, had their documents seized, fed out-of-date food and forced to scavenge for dumped mattresses to sleep on.
At some properties there were no working toilets, heating, furniture or hot water and some victims told how they were forced to wash in canals.
Handy – the only British member of the conspiracy to be charged – was introduced to the gang masters in 2015 after setting up ASAP 24/7 Recruitment to funnel workers into XDP.
West Midlands Police Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale led the investigation. He said: “Handy was an integral part of the crime gang, finding work for the victims and maximising their exploitation.
“He made far more money than any legitimate employment agent would have been able to – and there was evidence the gang also gave him £20 for each victim he employed.
“Handy made a significant amount of money while the victims – aged from 17 to a man in his 60s – effectively worked for just 50 pence an hour. He also went to considerable effort to protect himself, creating worthless contracts and filming himself informing workers of their rights, when in reality he was instrumental in taking away those rights.”
Our investigation into the crime gang saw us analyse 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.
The judge later praised the “meticulous detective work” in gathering detailed evidence and linking the co-conspirators to the exploitation.
The five men and three women were jailed in 2019 having been convicted of conspiracy to traffic people, requiring them to perform forced labour and acquiring criminal property.
Two more members of the crime group – who collectively made at least £2-million between June 2012 and October 2017 – were also jailed yesterday (24 September).
Lukasz Wyrwinski and Mateus Natkowski – who both lived in Birmingham’s James Turner Street – played the roles of ‘trusted enforcers’ for the gang, using violence and threats to intimidate victims and keep them in line.
Wyrwinski, aged 38, was known as ‘Diable’ – Polish for Devil – and had a feared reputation. As well as enforcing for the gang through threat and use of violence, on one occasion he stripped the identification from a victim who had died of natural causes in one of the gangs houses – all to prevent the gang from being caught so they could continue to exploit people. He admitted conspiracy to force people into forced labour, conspiracy to traffic people for the purpose of exploitation, and money laundering.
Natkowski, aged 29, was found guilty of conspiracy to force people into forced labour, conspiracy to traffic people for the purpose of exploitation.
The judge described their role in bringing victims into the country as “grab and imprison”. They were jailed for four years and three months, and four years and six months respectively today.
The judge thanked the victims for coming forward and re-living their harrowing ordeal. He described the effect on some of the victims who felt humiliated, degraded and controlled by the gang.
Our investigation, supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA), was launched in 2015 when two victims bravely broke free from their captors and disclosed offences to slavery charity Hope for Justice.
Paul McAnulty, UK & Europe Programme Director at Hope for Justice, said: “Human traffickers profit from the misery and desperation of others, exploiting vulnerabilities in good people. This exploitation is often perpetuated by a network of others who choose to look the other way, fail to live up to their responsibilities or, worse, are actively complicit in these crimes. Employers, retailers, labour providers, landlords, banks, consumers, all of us owe a duty of care – we must collectively look to shine a light on the abhorrent and reprehensible crime of modern slavery.
“Hope for Justice is proud of our role in working alongside West Midlands Police and partners to bring an end to this particular gang’s activities, and in assisting the survivors to freedom and supporting them towards their preferred futures.”
DCI Dale added: “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.”
Anyone who suspects people are being exploited or forced into labour in their community is urged to call West Midlands Police on 101, the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice on 0300 008 8000, or the Salvation Army’s 24-hour confidential referral helpline on 0300 303 8151.