Three people found guilty of modern slavery offences

Normunds Freibergs, Jacobus Stankevicius and Ruta Stankevicienewill be sentenced on October 28. Credit: Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority/PA

Three people have been convicted of modern slavery offences after exploiting and abusing a vulnerable worker.

Normunds Freibergs, 40, and his accomplices Jacobus Stankevicius, 59, and Ruta Stankeviciene, 57, forced their victim to work to pay off an ever-increasing 'debt' while they took his wages.

The defendants also controlled his passport and bank card, stole parcels sent from family members, and threatened him with violence if he tried to leave.

A jury found them guilty following a trial at Newport Crown Court and will be sentenced later this year.

The sentencing was held at Newport Crown Court on Monday 30 January. Credit: PA

Investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority arrested the trio during an operation with Gwent Police in October 2018.

They were tipped off by a recruitment agency after concerns were raised by staff at a poultry processing factory run by Avara Foods in Abergavenny, where the victim was working.

He had been introduced to Freibergs, who boasted of helping people find jobs in the UK, while working at a factory in Germany.

Once in the UK, Freibergs housed the victim with husband and wife Stankevicius and Stankeviciene in Newport, where he was made to live in fear of threats against his family and physical violence.

The couple ridiculed and mocked him for smelling and prevented him from having a daily shower, the court was told.

He was warned that if he tried to leave without paying his so-called debt he would be in trouble and that “bad people” in his homeland would force his family to pay.

His perceived debt grew to around £2,000, half of which was made up of interest, and his rent almost doubled to £150 per week, blamed by his exploiters on Brexit.

Stankevicius even kept a list on the fridge detailing the victim’s debt – which included payments to rent fridge space he could not use.

The victim began working at the poultry factory shortly before Christmas in 2017, earning as much as £500 per week.

However, his wages were paid into bank accounts Freibergs forced him to open online and on the high street in Newport.

Only the three defendants had access to the accounts.

Now in his early 30s, the victim has a job in another part of the UK and is doing well.

Investigating officer Laura Thomas said: “Exploiting vulnerable workers is completely unacceptable and we will not stop in our efforts to bring those who treat people as commodities to justice.

“Freibergs, Stankevicius and Stankeviciene treated this human being like their own private cash machine, stealing thousands of pounds of his hard-earned wages for their own ends.

“Debt bondage, where exploiters control and trap their victim in an endless cycle of perceived debt which realistically can never be repaid, is something our organisation unfortunately encounters all too often.

“I am pleased that the jury has listened to the compelling case we put forward and has concluded unanimously that the three defendants exploited this vulnerable worker.”

Gayle Ramsay from the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This is an appalling case of exploitation where a victim was trafficked for modern slavery purposes and subjected to a life of misery – purely to line the defendants’ pockets.

“Gaining the victim’s confidence has been fundamental to this case.

“A significant amount of work went in to caring for and engaging with him throughout the process.

“It has taken immense bravery on his part to recount, at trial, the treatment he had suffered and I am pleased we were able to assist him in that process.”

Freibergs, 40, of Morley Close, Newport, was convicted of forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking offences. He was cleared of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.

Stankevicius, 59, and Stankeviciene, 57, both of Capel Close, Newport, were convicted of forced or compulsory labour offences.

They will be sentenced on October 28.