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Operation into suspected slavery offences leads to conviction

A man has been convicted of forcing another man to work in exploitative and abusive conditions in Southampton. It follows a Hampshire Constabulary investigation into suspected slavery offences.

Zydrunas Zdanevicius was found guilty of an offence of forced labour against a fellow Lithuanian man and sentenced to 21 months in prison suspended for two years.

The judge accepted that Zdanevicius, 30, of Cornel Road, Southampton, used degrading, controlling and bullying behaviour, including withholding wages, to force the man to work excessive hours.

The alarm was raised when the 25-year-old victim and another man, 24, who also worked for Zdanevicius, together went to the authorities. The pair had travelled from Lithuania in the hope of finding work in the UK. They ended up working for Zdanevicius seven days a week delivering and collecting charity bags and living with other people at an address in The Polygon.

The 25-year-old told the court he was beaten by Zdanevicius and unfairly treated by him because he wasn’t delivering enough leaflets. Police were alerted in March 2013 and Operation Sodium was launched into suspected slavery offences. It involved agencies including the UK Human Trafficking Centre, the Salvation Army, Hampshire County Council and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Zdanevicius was arrested on April 30. A number of vulnerable people were identified and taken to a reception centre. These included both the Lithuanian men who were referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre via the National Referral Mechanism.

“It was an extremely complex investigation involving a huge amount of work and a large number of enquiries dealing with very vulnerable and exploited individuals. These two brave young men felt that their situation was untenable and they left and raised the alarm with the authorities. Both men are from Lithuania; that presented not only the language barrier but also the difference in terms of how they would approach the police and law enforcement within their country. We had to gain their trust.”

– Det Insp Phil Scrase