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19 December 2014, 16:59
Two Latvian gangmasters who intimidated migrants into performing "back breaking" labour for as little as £1-a-week have been jailed for a total of nearly three years.
Prosecutors said Ivars Mezals, 28, and Juris Valujevs, 36, used fear and debt to exploit migrant workers picking leeks, cabbages and broccoli in Cambridgeshire.
The nine-week trial at London's Blackfriars Crown Court heard how the pair "systematically exploited, manipulated and intimidated" their victims.
Judge David Richardson said: " There is a message in this case for everyone involved in the supply of migrant workers in the fields and processing and packaging plants of East Anglia. If you do not have a gangmaster's licence you must not supply workers, either directly or indirectly. If you do you face the prospect of an immediate prison sentence."
He urged farmers and factories to be alert to the problem and not to recruit workers from unlicensed gangmasters.
He said: "Farmers and producers themselves all need to hear that message. To make arrangements with unlicensed gangmasters is a serious criminal offence."
The pair had both earlier been found guilty of acting as a gangmaster without a licence between January 2009 and October 2013.
Mezals was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Valujevs was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
But they are expected to be released within months because of time spent on remand and on qualifying curfew.
Jurors heard that migrant workers, mainly from Latvia and Lithuania, travelled to the UK voluntarily.
They signed up for work via Mezals and Valujevs under the promise of regular well-paid jobs, decent accommodation and the "hope of a better life".
But they were forced to live in cramped, dilapidated homes and pay double the going rate for rent and pay fines for "fanciful" reasons including smoking.
Prosecutors said the gangmasters withheld work so their victims would rack up debts in unpaid rent which could be used to exploit them.
Those who complained were told if "you don't pay your life will be ended like Alisa's (Dmitrijeva)" - the Latvian teenager found murdered on the Queen's Sandringham Estate in 2012.
One woman was fined #100 a day when she was unable to work because her child was ill, the court heard.
But Judge Richardson said he thought the men had exploited their workers, but did not believe they kept them "in debt bondage".
He said: "I emphasise that this case, unlike some others that have appeared in the press, is not concerned with human trafficking, it is not concerned with modern slavery."
He said he was "sure'' the pair made between £50,000 to £100,000, and the "gains may have been higher''.
Mezals, from Conference Way in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and Valujevs, from Cresswell Street in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, were led away from the dock to the cells.
A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing, to claw back money made from the enterprise, will be held at the same court on March 13.