Tyne & Wear

Newcastle 'family business' slavery gang guilty

Clockwise from top left: Angelika Chec; Marian Rafael; Juraj Rafael; Ruzena Rafaelova snr; Ruzena Rafaelova jnr and Roman Rafael Image copyright Northumbria Police
Image caption Clockwise from top left: Angelika Chec; Marian Rafael; Juraj Rafael; Ruzena Rafaelova snr; Ruzena Rafaelova jnr and Roman Rafael

A Slovakian gang who made a "family business" out of trafficking homeless people from central Europe to the UK has been convicted.

The group, based in Newcastle, bought and sold victims for as little as £200, Teesside Crown Court heard.

They all faced charges of forced labour, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic with a view to exploitation.

Seven of them, including a teenager who cannot be named, were convicted. One was cleared of all charges.

Headed up by Roman Rafael, the group trafficked vulnerable people from Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the UK to work in food packaging factories.

Victims were forced to sleep in cellars and crammed into shared rooms, put out to work and received a fraction of the pay they earned as they were not allowed control over their bank accounts.

Their lack of English and any documentation, as well as little access to money, effectively trapped them, the court heard.

John Elvidge QC, prosecuting, said: "The defendants were running a family business and the business was slavery."

Image caption The jury heard evidence at Teesside Crown Court

Roman Rafael, 33, of Farndale Road, Newcastle, and Marian Rafael, 39, admitted the charges at an earlier hearing.

Angelica Chec, 30, of Farndale Road, Juraj Rafael, 38, of Bilbrough Gardens, and Ruzena Rafaelova, 37, of Brighton Grove, all Newcastle, were convicted of conspiracy to traffic humans, conspiracy to require others to perform forced labour and money laundering offences.

Ruzena Rafaelova, 58, of Strathmore Crescent, Newcastle, was cleared of conspiracy to traffic people into the UK, but was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to carry out forced labour.

A 17-year-old male, who cannot be named, was also found guilty of conspiracy to traffic people, money laundering and conspiracy to carry out forced labour.

Stefan Rafael, 62 of Strathmore Crescent, Newcastle, was cleared of all charges.

'Men with machetes'

The court heard the victims included a homeless Slovakian father and his son who has learning difficulties.

They were brought to the UK "with the promise of work and good money", Mr Elvidge said.

They were confined to a house in Newcastle's West End and told they could go no further than its back yard as there were "men with machetes" in the streets.

The jury were told they were sent to clean houses and pull springs from old mattresses for the scrap metal.

The father was allowed to return to Slovakia and he hoped his son would be allowed to come too, but that did not happen, the court heard.

Det Insp Sally MacDonald said: "Those responsible lead a life of luxury, enjoying holidays abroad and parties, financed by the money stolen from their victims.

"It is thanks to the bravery of the victims and work with partners that we have been able to secure these convictions."

Sentencing is due to take place on 27 April

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