BRITAIN’s biggest modern slavery gang supplied the nation’s biggest supermarkets with freshly picked groceries.
Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury and M&S all bought veg from firms that hired men and women brought into the UK by evil slave-masters.
The huge gang collected around 400 ex-cons and alcoholics in Poland with the promise of good money when they got to England.
But they were paid just 50p a day as the majority of their earnings from hard manual labour on farms, in factories and recycling centres were siphoned off.
One worker, named Dariusz, was forced to load large crates of spring onions onto wooden pallets before they were taken to a warehouse and wrapped in Tesco and Asda branding, the Sunday Times reports.
EXPLOITED AND ABUSED
His slave-master promised him to chance to earn £300-a-week if he came with them to Britain – but instead he was forced to carry out backbreaking work and live in squalor.
He said: “My life was controlled by these men.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to leave my home country and earn some money. It would be a fresh start. But it was terrible.
“When I was working at the farm, we would get up at 5am and I would be driven by a man to arrive for 7am. It was hard work. We were promised minimum wage — but I didn’t receive a penny.”
Dariusz was kept in servitude in fear for his life after the gang told him he would be buried in a forest if he tried to escape.
Led by the Polish Brzeninsky family the criminal mastermind gang pocketed £2million.
They housed their victims in horrendous conditions, and used them as what a judge described as “commodities”.
As the bosses lived the high life – sporting lavish clothes, and driving luxury cars including a Bentley Continental – one worker was given coffee and a chicken as payment for redecorating a house.
Another man had to wash in a canal because he had no other access to water, while one house’s leaky toilet was plugged with an old duvet.
Cops claim a number of victims worked at Sandifields Farms, which is part of a larger firm that sell fresh produce like onions, celery and mushrooms to UK supermarkets.
However, around 25 others were forced to make garden sheds and fences for a company called Forest Garden, based in Kidderminster.
Forest Garden is a supplier for Homebase, Argos, Travis Perkins and Wickes.
According to an investigation by the Times all of the supermarket and firms involved claim they knew nothing about the exploitation of the workers.
There is also no suggestion any of the companies were complicit.
‘A LIFE OF MISERY AND POVERTY’
One victim, describing “horrible” living conditions, said: “I would say some homeless people here in the UK live better than I lived after I arrived over here.”
Victims were reduced to recycling used cigarette butts off the street, and going to soup kitchens and food banks to get enough to eat.
After the end of two trials, it can now be reported how five men and three women, all originally from Poland, exploited their destitute victims for pure “greed”.
They have all now been convicted of modern slavery offences and seven of their number, of money laundering.
At their sentencing, Judge Stacey said their “degradation” of fellow human beings had been “totally unacceptable”, jailing the five for between 11 and four-and-a-half years.
She said the defendants had subjected victims to a “demi-life of misery and poverty”, robbing them of their dignity and humanity “without care or regard for the rights of the individuals affected”.
The Sun wants to Stamp out Slavery
Slavery takes a variety of forms, but most commonly forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic work or forced criminal activity.
The Home Office estimated that there are 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK, with the Global Slavery Index suggesting the figure could be as many as 136,000.
There were a staggering 5,145 suspected victims in the UK from 116 countries in 2017, including adults who had been used for organ harvesting and children that were forced into sexual exploitation.
Up until recently, trafficked victims had just 45 days support after being recognised as a modern slavery victim before they were expected to leave the UK and were deported by the Home Office.
During this short time, they were given accommodation, financial aid, medical treatment, counselling, a support worker, a translator and legal advice.
Through our Stamp Out Slavery campaign, The Sun joined forces with Co-op to lobby the government to do away with the 45-day rule. And last week, the Home Office did just that. Now victims will continue to receive support as long as they need it.
Jurors heard the accounts of more than 90 victims, but it is believed at least 350 more had been through the gang’s hands, who had since either returned to their homeland, could not be traced, or were too scared to come forward.
Victims would in some cases be “frog-marched” to cash points, to withdraw money and told they owed debts for transport costs, rent and food.
The gang operation was smashed after victims were uncovered by anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice.
The charity said 51 of the victims eventually made contact through its painstaking outreach efforts at two drop-in centres.
The organisation was then able to flag the slavery ring’s existence to police.
West Midlands Police then launched an investigation in February 2015.
At the end of the second case last month, a jury at Birmingham Crown Court convicted two men, 52-year-old Ignacy Brzezinski, from West Bromwich, and Wojciech Nowakowski, 41, of Birmingham, of modern slavery offences.
A third, Jan Sadowski, 26, from West Bromwich, admitted his part on the first day of trial.
At a previous trial ending in February, leading conspirator Marek Chowanic, along with Ignacy’s cousin, Marek Brzezinski, recruitment consultant Julianna Chodakiewicz, Natalia Zmuda and Justyna Parczewska, the group’s matriarch, were all convicted of their roles.
HELP STAMP OUT SLAVERY
Want to help? Here are some of the possible warning signs to look for, according to the Modern Slavery Helpline:
- Domestic slaves may be held in their employer’s home and forced to carry out tasks such as childcare, cooking and cleaning
- They may not be allowed to leave the house on their own, or they may be monitored
- The person may work long working hours
- They may not have access to their own belongings, such as a mobile phone or their own ID
- The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally
- The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by
- A domestic slave may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water or medical care
- They may wear poorer quality clothing compared to other family members
Suspicious? You can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700, or fill in an online report at: www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/report