Recycling slavery gang jailed for 32 years

Four gang members have been sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison after being found guilty of trafficking and exploiting vulnerable Polish workers.

Newcastle Crown Court head last week that the four men – Sabastian Mandzik, 40, Seweryn Szymt, 20, Pawel Majewski, 27, and Robert Majewski, 45 – ran a £1-million operation between June 2014 and September 2016 in which they brought Polish workers over from their native country on the promise of well-paid work, before subjecting them to deplorable housing conditions and forcing them into low-paid work with long hours at local recycling plants.

Recycling slavery gang jailed for 32 years
The four men were sentenced to a combined 32 years in prison
Speaking to the gang, Judge Ashurst said: “Throughout the ages, vulnerable people have been exploited and, despite the efforts of reforms over the country to outlaw slavery, it has not been eradicated and it continues to thrive in various parts of the world. Sadly, as this case demonstrated, the exploitation of such people continues in our own country.”

The judge said that the men were made to scavenge for items and “roam the streets looking for discarded mattresses” and were given “menial” but legitimate jobs at recycling plants that involved standing for eight hours picking litter and refuse at plants in the North East.

The Crown Prosecution Service said that what little wages the men earned were taken off them, along with their bank cards, by the gang members leaving them with “a few pounds a week” to live on. When the victims complained, they were physically abused and threatened, while their bank accounts were being used to launder hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The men were put-up in cramped, below-par, unfurnished housing, known as “tents”, in Benwell and Gateshead. Judge Ashurst continued: ““These were very basic affairs, often without any modern facilities, and there was a body of evidence to show those placed in tents were at a very considerable disadvantage.”

The four gang members will now be jailed after being found guilty of counts of conspiring to force people into labour, and one of conspiring to conceal property. Szymt has been jailed for five years, Pawel Majewski for seven, Robert Majewski for eight, while “lynchpin” Manzik was also convicted on a further count of transporting people for exploitation, and will serve 12 years.

Protecting vulnerable people an “absolute priority”

Speaking after the case, Jim Hope, from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Once this group became aware of the police investigation, they made a calculated effort to remove or destroy any evidence linking them to this case.

“We are pleased with the sentences handed down to these four men today and sincerely hope that, in bringing them to justice, other victims of modern slavery are encouraged to come forward and report their situation to police.”

Detective Superintendent Steve Barron, of Northumbria Police, added: “I’m pleased these men have been jailed for exploiting vulnerable people who were coerced into the country on the promise of well-paid work.

“Unfortunately, once here they were forced to live in horrible conditions and carry out work for little or no pay. This investigation has been a genuine multi-agency effort, which has helped make the victims of this offending safe and punish those responsible. The victims are now in safe locations and are being supported by specialists from partner agencies and our officers.”

Waste and modern slavery

While many people’s first ideas of waste crime are to do with crimes like fly-tipping and illegal sites, the UK waste sector, given its reliance on migrant labour is vulnerable to human trafficking and labour exploitation.

Back in September 2016, three men were arrested following raids on two recycling plants at CAP Recycling in West Bromwich and Black Country Recycling in Oldbury, as well as at homes in West Bromwich and Handsworth Wood, after 12 Polish men were found, with intelligence suggesting they were working shifts of up to 12 hours for around £10 a shift.

The 12 men were found to display signs of malnutrition and alcohol dependency, with one suspected to have been working with a broken shoulder, while evidence was found that some of the men were sleeping in one of the old recycling units at one of the plants.

This insidious form of modern slavery is something that the waste industry must display vigilance over. The 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act requires companies, including waste operators to be diligent in their labour and recruitment activities and those with a global turnover of more than £36 million are obligated to publish a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement, disclosing the ways in which they are ensuring that modern slavery is not taking place in their company or supply chain.

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