Instead of the salary they were promised in the UK, they got fear, humiliation, and returned to Poland empty-handed. Also the worst thing was that the fate of a dozen or so Poles from different parts of the country was decided by their own compatriots in the UK, who forced them into slave labour. First, the criminals contacted job seekers in Poland who wanted to work in the UK, which was not particularly difficult. The truth came to light right after their arrival, when it became clear that what would ensue would be a nightmare. A fictitious debt for supposed help rose to the point where the visitors could not repay it.
The crooks would for example charge the workers for rent at prices several times higher than the market value. Even the strictest judgement will not redress the injury these Polish citizens sustained in Britain from their own compatriots, who treated them as no more than modern-day slaves. Luckily, British law is very strict in such cases.
They made slaves out of them
Robert Doliński, 38, Andrzej Laskowski, 37, and Kewin Laskowski, 19, pleaded guilty before the court. They were tried in Leeds, in the North East of England and were sentenced to one to three years in prison. The swindlers operated swiftly and effectively. Upon arrival, the Poles had their identity documents and bank cards taken away from them. Defenceless, they were forced to pay their new “masters” for accommodation and travel expenses. When one of the slaves had enough and wanted to escape, he was battered in order to set an example for the others.
“The treatment of these vulnerable people was shocking. Every aspect of their lives was controlled. They were told where they could travel, where they were permitted to shop and faced the threat of violence if they failed to comply,” thundered Senior Crown Prosecutor Jim Hope.
Even though it seemed that sharing their burden would help to stop their unfair treatment, the victims did not speak out. “The victims lived and worked alongside colleagues in factories and warehouses,” said Hope, “and yet were so terrified, they were extremely reluctant to tell anyone about their plight.” The criminal group also involved two women – Maria Pawłowska, 34, and Agnieszka Laskowska, 34. They also admitted fraud but were released, having already served the six months in custody.
The whole operation was exposed on 18th October 2016, when police carried out numerous searches in houses and flats in Cowgate, Newcastle, as well as three buildings in Houghton-le-Spring and Consett, County Durham. As a result, fourteen victims of the criminal group were identified and eventually rescued from their horrible oppression. They were immediately taken care of by British lawyers, who offered them professional help to escape the trauma they experienced through contact with the Polish criminals as soon as possible. The three men and two women named above were sentenced for exploiting people who believed that a better future awaited them in the UK.
For the victims, it could not have been further from the truth – instead, they fell into the trap of the Polish Mafia. Robert Doliński was sentenced to three years and two months in prison. Andrzej Laskowski received two years and eight months in prison, and Kewin Laskowski will spend one year in prison. Both females were sentenced to a term of six months but they had already served their time and are now free. In 2015 the UK passed anti-slavery legislation introducing life sentences for traffickers and forcing companies to disclose what they are doing to make sure their supply chains are free from slavery.
Dagmara Przybysz was plagued before her death – and the police and school gloss over the racism shown towards the Polish Girl
The Polish criminals were apprehended after British police had received tip-offs that something bad was going on in a certain region of the country. A decision was made to search houses and flats in the Cowgate area of Newcastle, as well as in Houghton-le-Spring and Consett. Apart from the police, the operation also involved the British Red Cross, Salvation Army, Hope for Justice and numerous other organisations. Immediately after their release, the fourteen victims of the Polish oppressors were removed from their lodgings and housed in safe locations. They received support from trained police officers, psychologists and other specialists.
“This investigation is the result of a successful collaboration between multiple agencies across the UK,” claimed Superintendent Steve Barron from Northumbria Police, explaining that the operation was a result of the information the police force received, suggesting that a group of people might have been coerced into slave labour. Unfortunately their fears and the tip-offs they had received were eventually confirmed. Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, who also works for Northumbria Police, added that British law enforcement treats human trafficking and exploitation very seriously. “We all need to be vigilant in spotting the signs – so if something doesn’t seem right, the chances are it’s not.”
They toiled for pennies
Baird described the action plan used by the criminal group, who tricked Poles into travelling to Newcastle with the promise of well-paid work. Once there, they were forced to live in horrible conditions. Not only did the victims have to toil for their captors, who took most of the money they earned but the criminals also charged them four times the appropriate rent for their accommodation.
The victims were told that they were in great debt to their “masters” and had to work it off. These were alleged costs of travel and lodgings in the UK. Stranded in a unknown place, with no knowledge of the language, the local law and customs, these people were completely trapped. The court in Leeds heard that those unfortunate people who arrived in the UK spoke very little English. They were immediately put under pressure by their captors, who told them they had a debt to pay off. In particular, the workers could not believe that the rent they had to pay for the “hovels” they lived in was several times the amount normally paid for such accommodation in Britain.
Like a labour camp
“The treatment of the victims in this case and the conditions in which they were made to live were truly appalling,” said Jim Hope, adding that the conditions reminded him of a classic labour camp, where people are under constant control. The criminal activity could have lasted for a very long time, even though the victims lived close to one another. As they later complained to the police, they had simply been paralysed by fear, which had prevented them from speaking out.
The criminal group held their victims captive, forcing them to work in Cowgate, Consett and Houghton-le-Spring. Steve Barron from Northumberland Police: “This sort of exploitation is simply not acceptable and I hope this sends a warning to those who think they can exploit other people that we are out to catch them and they will ultimately end up in jail.” Neil Wain, European Programme Director for Hope for Justice, added, “Ending slavery and bringing the traffickers to justice will require exactly the kind of multi-disciplinary, multi-agency approach we have been part of during this complex, intelligence-led investigation.”
Pole against Pole
Unfortunately, this is yet another case in Britain where Poles are playing the leading role. It has been going on for years and it seems like this kind of crime will not end soon. Exploitation usually occurs in the agricultural and food-processing industries. According to a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation five years ago, immigrants employed by local employers are often treated like forced labourers. Not only does this concern illegal immigrants but also those from other EU Member States, including Poland, who live and work in Great Britain legally. The document was based on numerous conversations held with a dozen or so foreigners working in England and Scotland. The recurring feelings are fear and helplessness, social exclusion, and unawareness of workers’ rights, resulting from little knowledge of the language, which is, sadly, cynically used by employers and, as it has turned out, by the Polish exploiters.
Like the Wailing Wall
Weronika, 31, from Poland, stated she’d had a job but eventually was left with no money at all, having paid for gas, bills and food. As a result, all her money disappeared quickly.
Her compatriot, Izabela, 44, claimed that all employees in her work place had aching backs from standing up for eight hours beside a container with frozen meat. They were constantly on pain killers, otherwise there would have been no way they could have worked like this. Also, the cold was unbearable.
Some of the workers who complained to the writers of the report said that they were unable to earn enough money to pay off the debt they incurred from agents. Others complained about unachievable, exorbitant standards they were made to meet at work and about constant surveillance which would not allow even the smallest of breaks. These people usually lived crowded together in primitive living conditions, with strangers. They had their pay suspended and money deducted for no reason.
The lack of knowledge that they were protected by local law and the resulting fear prevented the victims from notifying the local authorities of their situation. This enabled the deceitful agents and employers to continue their actions for such a long time. In these circumstances the authors of the above-mentioned report could only appeal to HM Revenue & Customs to require enforcement of the labour law by employers. According to estimates, around 12,000 people are exploited in Great Britain each year. This involves not only hard work but also sexual exploitation.