West Midlands Police suspect up to 400 Polish nationals were trafficked from their homeland by the gang with false promises of wealth and a good lifestyle.
Instead they were forced to live in dirty bedsits across Sandwell, including West Bromwich and Smethwick, and also Walsall while working for a pittance, in some cases just £20 per week.
The gang isolated the workers, who were under the constant threat of violence, in poor, unsanitary accommodation, kept most of their wages and deprived them of every basic freedom.
David Handy, 54, Shane Lloyd, 47, Lukasz Wyrwinski, 38, and Mateus Natkowski, 29, were all jailed at Birmingham Crown Court following what police say is “the biggest slavery and trafficking investigation ever in the UK”.
Handy, the only British member of the conspiracy, made nearly £1 million by supplying slave labour to a parcels firm he used to work for in the West Midlands.
He set up recruitment firm ASAP 24/7 Ltd in May 2015 and supplied Sutton Coldfield logistics firm XDP 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.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison on Friday.
West Midlands Police Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale, who led the investigation, 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.”
Handy made so much money from the exploitation of workers that he brought in an accomplice, Shane Lloyd, to try to 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 to 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.
Two more members of the crime group – who collectively made at least £2-million between June 2012 and October 2017 – were also jailed on Friday.
Lukasz Wyrwinski and Mateus Natkowski – who both lived in Birmingham’s James Turner Street – were “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 by threatening and using violence, on one occasion he stripped the identification from a victim who had died of natural causes in one of the gang’s 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 and 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.
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.
West Midlands Police’s investigation, supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA), was launched in 2015 when two victims 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.”
Det Ch Insp 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.
Source: (Express & Star)