Over two years in prison for exploitative businessman
A businessman from Kirklees has been sentenced to two years and three months in prison after becoming the first business owner in the UK to be convicted of a human trafficking offence.
60-year-old Mohammed Rafiq, of Thorncliffe Road, Staincliffe, Batley, was convicted following a trial at Leeds Crown Court of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel within the UK for exploitation.
The case came off the back of the sentencing in May 2014 of Hungarian nationals, Janos Orsos and Ferenc Ille, to five years and three years’ imprisonment respectively for human trafficking offences.
Their offending came to light after one victim, who had left West Yorkshire, made contact with charity Hope for Justice who in turn contacted West Yorkshire Police.
Following the sentencing of Orsos and Illes, officers launched a further investigation in to the companies that employed the victims trafficked in to the UK by the pair to determine any liabilities held by them.
Rafiq was arrested in October 2014 and charged in November 2014.
Ten victims gave statements during the trial saying they had been trafficked in to the country and put to work at either the Kozee Sleep factory in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, or the Layzee Beds factory in Batley.
Both companies come under the parent company Hick Lane Bedding which Rafiq is owner and managing director of.
A number of the victims told police officers that Rafiq was aware that their wages were being paid to Orsos, with him then paying the men around £10-a-week pocket money. Several of the victims said they spoke to Rafiq about this and asked to be paid directly but were told to take it up with Orsos.
An industrial accident took place at the Layzee Beds factory in May 2012 involving one of the Hungarian workers who was ordered to use a forklift truck to take a waste bin outside to empty.
The pulley device was missing so he had to climb up to empty it manually. As he did so he fell and the waste bin fell on top of him, crushing his left foot which had to be amputated at hospital.
The victim was later told by Orsos that he had managed to get £15,000 from Rafiq as compensation for the accident, the majority of which was kept by Orsos with a smaller amount paid to the victim. The incident was not reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
Rafiq is also owner of Hick Lane Properties which owns a property called Gothic House in Batley where a number of the Hungarian workers were housed.
A Housing Solutions Officer for Kirklees Council along with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service visited Gothic House on 19th April 2011 and determined that there were in excess of 45 people living at the address. They saw a large number of residents at the property and a large number of mattresses. The following day, an emergency prohibition order was served on the property.
In a statement given to the police, one of the victims states that he lived at Gothic House for two to three years and that there were 53-54 people living there with 14 in his room.
He heard that Orsos was paying Rafiq £600 per month rent. A number of victims gave accounts of Rafiq visiting Orsos at Gothic House; therefore he would have been aware of the living conditions.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, of Protective Services Crime, said: “We don’t want this to be the experience of anyone living and working in this country.
“Human trafficking has no place in our communities and we would urge anyone with concerns to please report them to the police so that they can be acted upon.”