Lithuanian couple jailed for modern slavery
A Lithuanian couple living in Cheshire have been jailed for trafficking people into the UK and using them as slaves.
Rita Jablonskaite, 34, and her partner Robertas Repsas, 31, of Westland Drive in Warrington were prosecuted for offences under the Modern Slavery Act at Liverpool Crown Court.
At the conclusion of the prosecution case on 6 November, Jablonskaite admitted three counts of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation. Repsas pleaded guilty to one count of the same offence.
Today (3 March 2020) at Liverpool Crown Court, Jablonskaite was jailed for 28 months and Repsas was jailed for 15 months.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that a 50-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman had been brought to the defendants’ home in Warrington illegally. Both had been forced to work for the couple but had never been paid for their work.
The man was eventually released when he used a discarded phone he had found in his work as a cleaner to contact the Lithuanian embassy.
He topped up the phone with money he found discarded in rubbish he was sorting while he was working at a nearby glass recycling plant.
The woman was freed when she managed to scribble a message for help on the paperwork of police officers who had called to the couple’s home as part of their investigations.
She left with the officers and went to Warrington Police station where she gave a full account of what had happened to her.
The male victim had been brought to the couple’s then-home in Fitzherbert Street in Warrington in a minibus in June 2017 and had been made to work as a domestic servant. He referred to Jablonskaite and Repsas as his “owners”.
It later emerged that he was homeless in Lithuania and had been approached by a man there, who offered him the chance to live and work in the UK with a Lithuanian family.
He was told that he would be required to clean the house in exchange for food, accommodation and cigarettes and when he arrived he would be given £100 upfront and a phone.
However, when the police were called in March 2018, they discovered that his accommodation was a mattress in a cupboard under the stairs at the defendants' home. He had been cleaning and gardening and, from November 2017, had also worked full time for a recycling company, but he never received the wages.
A few months after he arrived in the UK, he told the couple he did not want to work for them anymore. Repsas warned him that “I’ve broken harder men than you” and said he should be grateful for having a roof over his head.
The fifty-year-old female victim was approached in Lithuania by Jablonskaite's father who said she could earn money by working for his daughter’s cleaning firm in the UK.
She too travelled to the UK in a shuttle bus and was left outside the defendant’s home which was then in Westland Drive, in the early hours of 23 June 2019.
She was made to clean and look after the defendants' young daughter. There was no bed for her and she was forced to sleep on the sofa in the living room. She was often given just one meal a day and spoke of sometimes being so hungry that she cried.
Repsas and Jablonskaite were initially arrested on 13 March 2018 and then released while investigations continued. Jablonskaite was interviewed again on 16 August 2018 after the female victim was discovered.
Nicola Wyn Williams from CPS Mersey-Cheshire said: “Repsas and Jablonskaite trafficked vulnerable people to this country, by deceiving them that they would get paid work in the UK and improve their lives. The opposite was the case.
“They were used as slaves by the defendants who removed their ID documents and took total control over their money, their bank accounts and their lives.
“The victims couldn’t leave the house without asking permission and had no way of breaking free and raising the alarm. Repsas and Jablonskaite had made both victims totally dependent on them. The male victim spoke of feeling that he was ‘invisibly handcuffed’.
“We think of slavery as something that was eradicated here centuries ago, but unfortunately it hasn’t been. Modern slavery is a growing problem in the UK and the Crown Prosecution Service works with the police and other Government agencies to robustly tackle it.
“The CPS is responsible for prosecuting those who have trafficked and exploited vulnerable people under false pretences as well as confiscating their assets.
“We work with prosecutors across the globe to stamp out this vile abuse of the rights of all human beings.”
Nicola added: “Victims of this crime are typically extremely vulnerable and often reluctant to, or fearful of, engaging with law enforcement. Ensuring the proper identification, continued support and protection of victims remains vital. Victims may also find the prospect of giving evidence at court particularly daunting. The CPS works closely with law enforcement to build robust cases with the aim of lessening or removing the need to rely upon the evidence of victims. Victims can also be supported by Special Measures to assist witnesses in court and help to relieve some of the stress associated with giving evidence.”
Notes to editors
The CPS recognises the exploitation of adults and children for criminal purposes is abhorrent and we take great care to ensure the right people are prosecuted for the right offences. We have published clear legal guidance which recognises the principle of non-prosecution of victims of trafficking or slavery. We are anxious that modern slavery victims are not unnecessarily criminalised, which is why early identification by investigators is key.
The CPS prosecutes cases of modern slavery that have been referred to it by law enforcement. These cases are handled by specialist units with prosecutors who have the expertise and experience to deal with this difficult and challenging casework.
The number of defendants prosecuted by the CPS for modern slavery crimes increased from 284 in 2017-18 to 322 in 2018-19, an increase of 13.4%.
Convictions increased from 185 in 2017-18 to 219 in 2018-19; an increase of 18.4%.
The conviction rate rose from 65.1% in 2017-18 to 68.0% in 2018-19 (2.9 percentage points).