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Woman jailed for trafficking prostitutes

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 believing 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."

Chen told the women her husband was a Chinese Triad gang leader and boasted of high-level police contacts, Belfast Crown Court heard.

She was caught after two prostitutes were detained at a port in Belfast in May 2009.

There were at least five brothels in Belfast, Newry in Co Down and Londonderry and victims were trafficked between them, the court heard.

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The judge said Chen, from Whinchat Grove in Kidderminster, threatened the prostitutes with violence and murder after luring them to Northern Ireland with adverts in Chinese newspapers promising 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 with little command of English and afraid of going to the police.

The defendant moved the women around and in and out of Northern Ireland in a business motivated by financial gain. She 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 there became suspicious because they had no luggage and they confessed their situation.

Police discovered five brothels in follow-up raids and rescued two other women. Two prostitutes and two housekeepers, all illegal immigrants, were saved.

The trail led to Hinton, an accountant who 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," he said.

He added: "D was scared of you and your boyfriend and she believed that if she did not do what you told her she would be in trouble."

He said another victim was told if she ran away she would be murdered.

The judge added the conditions inside the brothels were squalid.

He said the women were isolated, particularly after they were attacked in spring 2009. One person was pushed onto a couch and had her head covered with a cushion while the other was hit.

"The only person to whom they could cry for help was you Rong Chen, the very person who had used and abused them," he said.

Detective Superintendent Phil Marshall said: "Police are determined to make Northern Ireland a hostile environment for organised criminals seeking to make money by treating their fellow human beings as commodities to be sold in the most humiliating and degrading of markets."

He added: "These individuals preyed on vulnerable women, promising them a better future but, in reality, subjecting them to a degrading existence."

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 Chen in controlling prostitution and entering into an arrangement to acquire criminal property.

He did not gain financially and did not control criminal activities. He helped to transport the women about and arranged to rent properties.

The judge said his activities were based on a misguided concept of friendship and he did not appreciate the serious consequences of what he had done.

Hinton pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the control of prostitution but his role was peripheral.

The judge told Chen she had an "egocentric" focus on financial gain despite not being under financial pressure because of her husband's well paid occupation.

She showed no emotion as she was led from the dock.

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