Four men have been jailed for trafficking Polish migrants and using threats and violence to force them to work in waste and recycling plants across the north-east of England.
MRW understands the case is the first of a number of related prosecutions in the pipeline.
Newcastle Crown Court was told the victims had “vulnerabilities and problems” and that “many, many workers” were involved.
Migrant workers were encouraged to come the UK and given national insurance numbers and bank accounts, but the gang then took away all their paperwork.
The judge said victims were coerced through “a combination of threats, intimidation and use of physical violence on occasion” and that they had been “deliberately degraded”.
Workers were deprived of money and food and made to live in unfit accommodation. The judge said some had been forced to look for fly-tipped mattresses on the streets and that they had been seen scavenging discarded sweets from the recycling facilities.
Northumbria Police investigated the gang after being contacted by one of the victims. A case was then brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
This is an increasing issue, not just here in Northumbria but across the country and continent
Detective superintendent Steve Barron
On 30 May, Sabastian Mandzik, 40, Robert Majewski, 45, Pawel Majewski, 27, and Seweryn Szmyt, 20, were given jail terms totalling 32 years for their role in exploiting workers from Poland between June 2014 and September 2016.
The defendants had all been convicted of conspiracy to require persons to perform forced labour.
They were also convicted of conspiracy to transfer criminal property after laundering £1m through the victim workers’ bank accounts. Mandzik was also convicted of conspiring to arrange or facilitate travel of another with a view of that person being exploited.
At sentencing, the judge called the gang “extraordinarily devious”. Mandzik was jailed for 12 years, Pawel Majewski for seven years and Szmyt for five years. The three men all live at the same address in Jarrow. Robert Majewski, who lives in London, was jailed for eight years.
Detective superintendent Steve Barron said: “This investigation has been a genuine multi-agency effort which has helped to make the victims of this offending safe and punish those responsible.
“The victims are now in safe locations and are being supported by specialists from partner agencies and our officers.
“Sadly we know this is an increasing issue, not just here in Northumbria but across the country and continent.”
Jim Hope, senior crown prosecutor for CPS North East, said: “The treatment of the victims and the conditions in which they were made to live were truly appalling.
“Once this group became aware of the police investigation, they made a calculated effort to remove or destroy any evidence linking them to this case. Despite their attempts, the CPS worked closely with detectives to build a complete picture of the scale and scope of their criminal operations.”
The details of the recycling firms involved and number of victims has been withheld because of further legal action being taken. The CPS told MRW that a related slavery case involving five defendants is scheduled to be heard at Leeds Crown Court on 5 June.