Operation Fort: Three gang members convicted of human trafficking
Three pivotal members of the largest human trafficking ring ever exposed in the UK have been convicted of people trafficking offences that involved vulnerable victims being intimidated and exploited, having their wages funnelled in to bank accounts controlled by members of the gang and being paid only paltry sums in return for their labours.
Members of a Polish human trafficking organisation and their British co-conspirator have been convicted after the conclusion of the third trial in the UK’s largest ever modern slavery prosecution and what is believed to be the biggest of its type in Europe.
The case involved significant international cooperation, with meetings held in the UK and in Poland between CPS and Polish prosecutors leading to vital evidence being shared and a successful extradition.
David Handy, 54, and Mateus Natkowski, 29, were convicted at Coventry Crown Court today (25 June 2021). Lukasz Wywrinski, 38, pleaded guilty on 11 May 2021.
Many victims were homeless, vulnerable, and desperate to earn money. They were lured from Poland to the UK with the promise of well-paid jobs and good accommodation, with the hope they could make a better life for their families.
These gang members then exploited them by isolating them, housing them in poor of unsanitary accommodation, under constant threat of violence or subjecting them to actual assault, forcing them to work, keeping most of the wages they earned and depriving them of every basic freedom. The victims were also under constant threat of violence or subjected to actual assault.
Neil Fielding, Specialist Prosecutor from CPS West Midlands Complex Casework Unit, said:
“The extent to which this gang callously exploited and deprived their victims of basic human rights is truly appalling. The scale of the suffering they inflicted on huge numbers of mainly vulnerable people is difficult to comprehend.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many witnesses who gave evidence in this series of trials for their bravery in coming forwards and for continuing to support the case. I would also like to thank the Polish authorities for their assistance in this case.”
Paul McAnulty, Hope for Justice, said:
“Human traffickers profit from misery and desperation, exploiting vulnerabilities in good people. This exploitation is often perpetuated by those who choose to look the other way, fail to live up to their responsibilities or, worse, become actively complicit. Employers, retailers, labour providers, landlords, banks, consumers, all of us owe a duty of care - we must all shine a light on the abhorrent crime of modern slavery.
"Hope for Justice is proud of our role in working alongside West Midlands Police and the CPS to bring an end to this particular network’s activities, and in assisting the survivors, supporting them towards their preferred futures.”
David Handy operated as a seemingly legitimate employer providing work for those being exploited by the slavery gang. Handy knew what was happening from his direct contact with members of the gang, which included discussions about how various workers would be managed and the arrangements over the levels of wages and where wages would be paid.
His willingness to turn a blind eye to the misery caused to the people being exploited was underlined by the discovery of few proper records and accounts from witnesses that they had little understanding of the terms of their employment. His driving motive, namely greed, was emphasised by his attempts to hide the profits he was making from HMRC.
Without his active cooperation, the slavery gang would have found it much harder to find work for those they were exploiting and to siphon off the money earned through slave labour. The CPS proved that Handy chose to disregard the suffering of others in the pursuit of personal financial gain.
Handy’s conviction shows that he not only knowingly profited from the mistreatment of others but maximised his gains by hiding his money from HMRC.
Natkowski was described as an ‘enforcer’ who often met victims trafficked to the UK and brought them back to their designated accommodation, which was often a rented two- or three-bedroom house, with limited hot water and heating.
Lukasz Wywrinski also used to meet victims as they entered the UK, and acted as an ‘enforcer’ to maintain discipline within the ranks. He lived in the houses with the victims and would regularly intimidate them with verbal and physical abuse to ensure that fear was instilled in them, so they would not rebel and find a way to escape.
Lukasz Wywrinski was serving a prison sentence in Poland however the CPS successfully negotiated with Polish authorities for his temporary surrender so he could be extradited to face trial in the UK.
All three of these men played a key role in ensuring the human-trafficking operation ran smoothly.
How the case was proved
Phone records were recovered revealing contact between key conspirators. Text messages were shown in court in which Handy queried which account money should be paid into, for work carried out by some of the victims, so it could be channelled into accounts controlled by gang members.
Employment records showed how much the victims earned and banking documents showed how little they received, and the lack of control they had in their own lives.
Searches of houses that the organisation controlled also recovered piles of banking documents in the victims' names, and the state of the houses showed the difference between the living conditions of the victims and the ‘enforcers.’
One victim, a Polish national, was recruited in Poland with the promise of £300-£450 a week and accommodation in the UK. He was met by Wyrinski and Natkowski in the UK in February 2015 and brought back to a two-bedroom house with 11 people living there with no beds, no heating and no hot water or cooking facilities. He was not allowed out on his own and was followed everywhere he went.
He recalled being in the UK for three weeks before he was taken to an employment agency, and he was taken to open bank accounts, but he never received any cards. During those three weeks he worked 12-13 hours a day, and received £10 in total. He described being assaulted by Wyrwinski and being watched and monitored by Natkowski. During his account, he said that he was living in fear before he left control of the organisation.
Handy, Wywrinski, and Natkowski will be sentenced at a later date.
Notes to editors
- Neil Fielding is a Specialist Prosecutor from CPS West Midland's Complex Casework Unit
- Hope for Justice is a charity which identified the first victims in this case and provides support for survivors.