A woman who controlled and trafficked prostitutes in Northern Ireland using threats of murder has been sentenced to seven years in prison.
Rong Chen (35) conned women into coming to Northern Ireland by making them believe that they would work as child minders.
Instead the illegal immigrants worked as prostitutes or housekeepers while isolated in squalid flats, and were threatened with violence and deportation should they try to escape.
Mr Justice Ben Stephens said: “You trafficked four woman as an adjunct to and to facilitate a large-scale commercial operation of controlling prostitution for gain.”
She was caught after two prostitutes were detained at a port in Belfast in May 2009.
Mr Justice Stephens said that Chen, from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in England, had regarded her victims' well-being as “inconsequential”.
Two men convicted of aiding and abetting Chen in controlling prostitution, her husband Jason Hinton and former policeman Simon Dempsey from Northern Ireland, were also sentenced.
Hinton was given a community service and Dempsey was jailed for nine months.
The judge said that Chen threatened the prostitutes with violence and murder after luring them to Northern Ireland with adverts in Chinese newspapers that promised relatively well-paid jobs.
She used their illegal status to prevent them from contacting the authorities and controlled their movements — isolating them in dirty flats, knowing that they were afraid of going to the police.
Chen made £280,000 between January 2008 and May 2009.
Eventually, a physical attack by a former client in Newry led to two women being taken by Dempsey to the Stena Line port in Belfast.
Staff were suspicious because they had no luggage and they confessed their situation.
Police discovered five brothels in Belfast, Newry and Londonderry in follow-up raids and rescued two others. Two prostitutes and two housekeepers, all illegal immigrants, were saved.
The trail led to Hinton, an accountant who had arranged Chen's frequent trips to Northern Ireland and had little empathy for the victims.
The judge told Chen she had exploited her victims: “You used their illegal status to control and coerce them. You knew that as a result of that illegal status all of them were inhibited from contacting the authorities.”
Chen was convicted of two counts of controlling prostitution for gain, trafficking in the UK for sexual exploitation and entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property.
The court heard how Dempsey (42), from Ringbuoy Cove, Cloughey, near Newtownards in Co Down, had shown remorse for the crime. He pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting.
He did not gain financially, but helped to transport the women and arranged to rent properties.
Hinton pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the control of prostitution, but his role was peripheral. Chen showed no emotion as she was led from the dock.