By Kris Jepson
A Newcastle-based Slovakian family who made hundreds of thousands of pounds by enslaving vulnerable people have been jailed for a total of 38 years.
The Rafael family, who are of Roma origin, exploited eight vulnerable people who they enticed and trafficked to the UK from Eastern European countries, with the promise of work and accommodation, between 2010 and 2017.
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When passing sentence, Judge Peter Armstrong said:
The organised criminal gang exploited their victims by housing them in cramped, basic conditions, locking them in cellars, forcing them to take metal out of mattresses, scrape concrete from bricks, work in car washes and food manufacturers.
The money, which came from the victim’s wages, benefits and loans funded the family’s lavish lifestyle, which included spending £10,000 on an Audi Q7, booking numerous Mediterranean holidays, buying expensive gold jewellery and enjoying casino trips.
The prosecution said over the seven years, the Rafael family had a “reliable income stream”, which ran into the hundreds of thousands, from operating the slaves.
Tax credits and bank loans were paid out to the family in the names of their victims, and some cash was converted into gold and transported out of the UK to relatives in Zlate Moravce in Southern Slovakia.
The jury heard that by operation four slaves for five years, the Rafael family could make around £250,000.
Prosecutor, John Elvidge QC told the jury “they were not chained or bound, but that was not necessary because their circumstances made them compliant and to all intents and purposes, captives. They were strangers in a foreign land, with a foreign tongue, without independent means or access to money. They were made dependant on the Rafaels who controlled them.”
Thirty-three year-old Roman Rafael, and his brother, Marian Rafael, 39, were both sentenced to 10 years after admitting to charges of conspiracy to commit slavery, conspiracy to traffic people for exploitation, and conspiracy to launder money.Roman’s wife, Angelica Chec, 30 and Marian’s wife, Ruzena Rafaelova, 38, and the brothers’ cousin Juraj Rafael, 38, were all convicted of the same offences. The first two received five year prison sentences while the latter received a four year sentence
The ringleaders’ mother, 58-year-old, Ruzena Rafaelova, was convicted of conspiracy to commit slavery and conspiracy to launder money and was handed a four year sentence.
All the victims said in written statements, read out to the jury, that they had lost their confidence and self-esteem after enduring months and years as slaves. They were sold to the Rafael family for as little as £200.
Flown into Stansted, Edinburgh and Liverpool Airports, they were then trafficked to Newcastle and housed within low quality housing connected to the Rafael’s.
One victim victim claimed to have earned the equivalent of £350 a week through his work, but the Rafaels, who controlled the victims’ bank accounts and kept their identity documents, only gave them a fraction of what they had earned each week.
Another victim said it was “the most beautiful day” when the police came, during one of two raids in Newcastle’s Westend last year. He said, he now “feels free” to walk in a park again and said, now, the “future is not so dark”.
Another victim said being enslaved for years alienated him from his wife and children, who thought he was withholding his earnings from them.