Chapter Eight – Why We Do It (Catching a Criminal Series Two)

Following on from their eventual guilty
pleas at court, Karens Pelcis, his brother Ilgvars, parents Ainars and
Magdalena Kleina, and wife Madara Stromane were jailed, with sentences
totalling 33 years. The rest of the group who pleaded guilty but were not jailed
were immediately deported back to Latvia. Sentencing day, it was the culmination
of the job. It was almost 18 months of hard work from myself, the team, the
Latvian cops, all the prosecutors, all the partnership agencies that we’ve
worked with. And it was the day that the victims, the vulnerable victims, got their
justice. We’ve been heavily involved as a team in dealing with the victims. We
presented evidence around 28 victims through the trial and actually 15 of
those came to court. We had people travelling from Germany, numerous victims
travelled all the way back from Latvia, so these victims really, really cared
about the case and really cared about getting justice. So to get a conviction
for something that was so challenging was exceptionally rewarding not only for
us but also for the victims to know that they’ve had some justice out of it. I think the fact that they were given the opportunity to speak and stand up in court, which is something that didn’t think was possible right at the
beginning, that was an achievement for them. These victims were
controlled, they weren’t free. They were afraid of their exploiters, but then also
relied on them. They were afraid of speaking to the police, they were afraid
of court and giving evidence in front of the 11 people that exploited them. Yet in
spite of that fear they still gave evidence at court, in front of their exploiters,
and to me that takes courage. And there were some
offenders who, due to the time that they served on remand, were due to be
released immediately when their sentences were passed. However, we later found out
that they were not released at all and actually kept in custody in the court
building, and taken to an immigration centre where they’ve later been
deported. So they’ve had no opportunity whatsoever to really step that foot
into the community to have any single opportunity to exploit any vulnerable
people again. And I think that really is one of the best results from this investigation. These people won’t offend here again and they will dare not offend
again in Latvia knowing that the Latvian authorities are still watching down on
them hard as well. The process of recouping the Pelcis crime group’s
ill-gotten gains through the Proceeds of Crime Act is still ongoing. But with the
main players behind bars and the enterprise completely dismantled, the
joint investigation team both in the UK and in Latvia were able to briefly sit
back and relax, knowing that many victims of the gang had been safeguarded. Really my job since I’ve been working within modern slavery during the last 18 months, it’s really opened my eyes to how vulnerable these people are. They are
embedded within our communities, they are trafficked in from all over the place,
from all over Europe, all over the world, they’re highly vulnerable because a lot
of them don’t speak English. They’re absolutely trapped in their position and
they’re subjected to years and years of abuse. There is no way out for them
through their vulnerabilities, they don’t know any better, their families are often
threatened back home, which we’ve seen first-hand. And they feel absolutely
helpless and there’s nowhere for some of these people to turn. And it’s not
necessarily foreign nationals that are subjected to this criminality. There are
people within the UK, on the street next door to where you live, that are being
used as domestic slaves held in servitude. It’s all about money. It’s all
about profit. So in general when we speak about trafficking we keep in mind that
it’s a crime about money laundering because they earn big money from
exploitation of people and they can afford a luxury life, nice houses, cars,
travel. This is where they spend money. All the money went to the hands of their
exploiters. When you’ve got vulnerable victims working themselves, working their
fingers to the bone, and these workers were out there packing salad, packing food, processing processing chicken, processing flowers, so
what you’ve got to think about as a general member of the public is next
time you go and buy a bunch of flowers for a loved one – which is
a luxury item actually, it’s not something that you need for a basic
existence – you’re buying this luxury item for a gift for somebody to make them
happy when actually at the other end of the process you’ve got a vulnerable
victim that’s travelled halfway across Europe and put out to work for six, seven
days a week, 12 hours a day, and they’re getting little food and they’ve got
absolutely no luxury or pleasure in their life. They are the ones that are
providing your luxury goods. I feel so proud that we’ve just been able to help
so many people, so many victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, that
needed our help. We were there to help them, to get them the support that they
needed, and to enable them to stand up in court and say what they wanted to say,
seeing them come out of court feeling so proud themselves, just made it – it just
hit home and made you realise that this is what we do it for. This is why we work
so hard just to achieve those results.

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