‘Modern day slavery is in Norfolk’ - workers were paid 8p a day
PUBLISHED: 10:29 16 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:29 16 January 2016
Two human traffickers who paid foreign workers just 8p a day after pocketing their wages are today starting jail terms.
Konstantin Sasmurin, 34, and Linus Ratautas, 31, both Lithuanian nationals, were jailed at King’s Lynn Crown Court yesterday for three-and-a-half years each for their part in trafficking twin brothers from their own country.
They had pleaded guilty earlier this week, on the eve of their trial, to trafficking people into the UK for the purposes of labour exploitation and money laundering offences. They were both also given a Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order.
The men, from Yarmouth Road, Caister, were living in Lichfield Road, Great Yarmouth, when the offences occurred.
Philip Farr, prosecuting, said the brothers were basically working for just 8p a day. They lived in dreadful conditions in Crittens Road, Cobholm, were given little food and, three months later, were in the same clothes they had arrived in. One of the brothers lost 15 kilos in weight.
They were threatened that they would be “fed to the crabs” if they complained, or moved from the home they shared with other Lithuanians.
Mr Farr said: “If this was not slavery, it was very close to it.”
The money the twins should have been earning was paid into one of the defendants’ bank accounts, and they pocketed more than £3,700, between July and October 2013.
Det Sgt Mark Scott, of Norfolk Constabulary, said afterwards: “Modern day slavery is in Norfolk and there will be other victims out there. We urge the public to report anything suspicious, such as poor living conditions and people wearing the same clothes for months at a time.”
Mr Recorder Dennis QC commended Helen Miller, from the Norfolk Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA), and Det Sgt Scott for their hard work on the case.
But he said the twins were now cut “adrift” in the UK, unable to find work, and fearful of returning to Lithuania in case of reprisals.
Andrew McGee, for Sasmurin, said: “He’s profoundly remorseful at what happened. He recognises the hurt and damage he inflicted on two disadvantaged young men.”
Maria Dineen, for Ratautas, said no violence had been used on the twins, and no significant restrictions were placed on their liberty.
How it happened
The twins, both 26 at the time, were brought to Great Yarmouth from Lithuania in a minibus in July 2013 after being promised work, accommodation and food.
This was arranged by Sasmurin with his contacts in Lithuania.
On arrival they were met by Sasmurin and Ratautas – who were then living in Lichfield Road, Southtown – and taken to an address in Crittens Road, Cobholm.
After several weeks, Sasmurin and Ratautas took them to work at a food processing factory in Oulton Broad.
Bank accounts in their names were opened, but they were not given cards so they could not use them. Their wages were paid into one of the defendants’ accounts.
They were then taken to a different factory in Flixton to work, and the same procedures were followed. The victims received just £20 for all their work between July and October 2013.
They were told they owed money for accommodation, transport, electricity and had to pay taxes and interest.
After three months the alarm was raised, and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) identified them as potential victims of trafficking and they were referred into the National Referral Mechanism. A joint investigation between Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies and the GLA was launched and resulted in Sasmurin and Ratautas being arrested in April 2014.
Victims asked to borrow money from neighbours
The victims of Sasmurin and Ratautas repeatedly asked to borrow money from their neighbours while they were housed at Crittens Road.
The pair had asked to borrow £20 from the fiancé of 62-year-old Heather Foote in the summer of 2013, saying their wages had not gone into their bank accounts.
“They came to knock on my door to borrow money that summer when my fiancé was here, and he lent them £20,” neighbour Ms Foote said. “It took until September, two or three months, to get it back from them.
“The very same day they came back asking to borrow some more. They said their money hadn’t gone through to their bank account.”
In fact, the victims received a total sum of £20 for all their work between July and October 2013.
They were told they owed money for accommodation, transport, electricity and their wages were low due to tax and interest.
Ms Foote added people would come and go from the property all the time, and it had been left “a mess”.
“They started making a lot of noise and loud music,” she said.
“I phoned the police and they did nothing, so I went to see someone from the council about it.
“In the end I just put a letter through their door asking them to keep quiet, but they didn’t speak much English so I don’t think they understood.
“The chap next door on the other side went to have a word with them, and it seemed to quieten down after that.”
After the two men were recovered from the home, police reported it was in a “very poor condition”, with mould on the walls and no beds.
“There was supposed to be two people living there, but it seemed like more,” said Ms Foote.
“There was always people coming and going, and they just suddenly disappeared one day. They all vanished.
“Apparently when the landlord went in afterwards it was very messy in there.”