Northern Ireland

Romanian gangmaster kept 15 people in three-bed house

Lacatus pictured leaving court in Craigavon on Friday
Image caption Lacatus hid his face as he left the Craigavon court on Friday

A Romanian gangmaster kept 15 people in appalling conditions in a three-bedroom house in County Armagh, a court has heard.

Ioan Lacatus forced his victims to work up to 70 hours per week, sometimes for weeks on end without a break.

They were given only limited cold food and shared one toilet and one shower.

Lacatus, known to the people he exploited only as "the minister", will be sentenced next week.

'Eat stones'

He has previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic people for exploitation within the UK, four counts of trafficking into the UK migrant workers for exploitation, acting as unlicensed gang master and converting criminal property.

Craigavon Crown Court heard that Lacatus, who arrived in Northern Ireland seven years ago, already had a string of convictions in France and Italy.

The court heard that he took almost all his victims' wages. When they complained about the conditions, Lacatus - who has an address at Hanover Street, Portadown - told them they could "eat stones".

They were told not to go outside the house, nor to speak to any fellow workers.

Passports removed

Eventually, four people fled from the house and went to Portadown police station.

When the police turned up to rescue another five people, a doctor had to be called for one, while others had to be fed immediately.

Most of the workers are from a remote part of Romania close to the Hungarian border.

When they arrived in Northern Ireland their passports were taken away and they were made to sign various forms arranging for their wages to be paid into bank accounts.

The court heard these were set up by Lacatus and his wife, Cristina Covaci, who was also in court, as was her brother Samuil Cavaci. They are also due to be sentenced next week.