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Slavery victim says it was worse than being in Polish jail

A victim of Britain's largest modern slavery ring said being locked in a Polish prison was
A victim of Britain's largest modern slavery ring said being locked in a Polish prison was "better" than conditions he was forced to endure by criminal gang-masters

By Richard Vernalls

A victim of Britain's largest modern slavery ring said being locked in a Polish prison was "better" than conditions he was forced to endure by criminal gang-masters.

Miroslaw Lehmann was one of more than 400 estimated victims ensnared by the family-run operation, which trafficked vulnerable workers for greed.

It is believed the eight co-conspirators convicted of modern slavery and money laundering offences made £2m from their criminal enterprise - all from the exploited workers' labour.

The 38-year-old, originally from Poznan, Poland, was brought to the UK in February 2014 after gang members approached him at a bus station promising work in England.

Mr Lehmann had just been released from jail and, like dozens of the gang's other victims, had "nowhere to go". Asked why he had wanted to come to the UK, he said through a translator: "To be honest, [I wanted] to start a new life - but I didn't know that the new life would start with some really big problems."

On arriving, he along with others then endured "horrible" and squalid living conditions, with up to four people to a room in homes dotted across the Black Country in the West Midlands.

Mr Lehmann said: "There was no heating, no secure windows, cold water, sleeping on the floor on some mattresses, covering yourself with your own clothing."

Asked how he was treated by the traffickers, Mr Lehmann responded: "Initially everything seemed okay but later on they started treating me like a thief or something like that."

He added: "In Poland, when I was in prison, it was better than being in this house."

At a trial, ending in February, Marek Chowanic, Marek Brzezinski, Julianna Chodakiewicz, Natalia Zmuda and Justyna Parczewska were convicted for their roles in the conspiracy, and jailed for between four-and-a-half and 11 years. Following a separate trial last month, three others - Ignacy Brzezinski, Wojciech Nowakowski and Jan Sadowski= - were also convicted for their part in the enterprise.

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