Family convicted of forced labour and modern slavery

|News, International and organised crime

Members of a Slovakian family have today (10 April) been convicted of trafficking people into the United Kingdom and forcing them to work for little or no pay.

Five members of the Newcastle-based Rafael family were found guilty of the systematic exploitation of homeless, unemployed and vulnerable people from Eastern Europe following a trial at Teesside Crown Court. Two further family members pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

The defendants, spanning three generations, were prosecuted for offences against eight victims who they trafficked into the UK and forced into work.  

In order to help secure the convictions the CPS made arrangements for the vulnerable victims to give evidence against the Rafaels. This included facilitating travel back to the UK and special measures such as video links and intermediaries.

The court heard how between 2010 and 2017 members of the Rafael family or their associates would approach people in towns in Slovakia and the Czech Republic with the promise of food, work and accommodation in the United Kingdom.

Some of the victims suffered from mental health and learning difficulties.

Victims would be transported to Newcastle and taken to houses where they were kept in cellars or in crowded rooms. They were then put to work while the family arranged bank accounts and National Insurance numbers for them so that loans could be taken out in their names.  

Their identification documents and bank cards were confiscated so the family could control their movements and wages.

The family forced their victims to work in car washes, or in jobs packing food, cleaning concrete from old bricks, and pulling springs from old mattresses for scrap metal. Often the work was heavy manual labour over long shifts.

The victims received a tiny fraction of their income, with the majority kept by the Rafael family. They were given small amounts of food and told they needed to pay back the money they owed for transport and housing.

Two victims who arrived in Newcastle in March 2017 were told not to leave the house to avoid the police as they would be arrested if they were seen.

Others were physically threatened when they attempted to leave.

A father and son were given one meal and were told it would need to last them a whole week. Another victim was sent back to Slovakia after a year of forced labour with no money or possessions other than his clothes. Another was paid £10 a day for 12-hour shifts unloading tyres.

The offending came to light when one man escaped a property in Newcastle and alerted police.

Diane Spence from the CPS said:

“This family systematically targeted desperate and destitute people with the false promise of good work, fair wages and accommodation. The victims thought they would be able to earn money to send home to their families. Instead, the Rafaels enslaved them and treated them as nothing more than property to be passed around for financial gain.
 
“The CPS presented detailed evidence to the court showing how the offending was carried out. This included airport CCTV footage and boarding passes corroborating the victims’ account of how they came to be in the UK, and numerous bank cards, payslips, and other documents showing how the family manipulated banking and benefit systems.   

“This was a challenging and lengthy trial and it is thanks to the brave testimony of the victims that the defendants have been brought to justice.”   

 

Notes to editors

  • Diane Spence is a Senior Crown Prosecutor from CPS North East
  • A number of the victims had gone back to their home countries after the Rafaels were charged. The prosecution was able to arrange for them to return to the United Kingdom to give evidence at trial. As none of the victims spoke English and all were vulnerable, the prosecution ensured a package of support measures to assist the victims to give their best evidence in court. Several gave their evidence to the court via video link, and one victim was supported by an intermediary to assist him in giving his evidence. The victims were often required to give their accounts over a number of days, and their bravery and commitment has helped secure these convictions.
  • Roman Rafael (DOB 18.10.84) was charged and pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, two counts of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Marian Rafael (DOB 25.6.78) was charged and pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, two counts of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Angelica Chec (DOB 22.2.88) was charged and convicted after trial of  two counts of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, two counts of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Ruzena Rafaelova (Snr) (DOB 21.3.60) was charged and convicted after trial of two counts of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour and two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Ruzena Rafaelova (Jnr) (DOB 21.9.80) was charged and convicted after trial of two counts of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, two counts of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Juraj Rafael (DOB 6.9.79) was charged and convicted after trial of one count of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, one count of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • A youth (aged 17) was charged and convicted after trial of one count of conspiracy to commit slavery, servitude or compulsory labour, one count of conspiracy to traffic persons with a view to their exploitation and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • They will be sentenced on 27 April 2018.

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