The grim living conditions of a Polish couple, who were forced to undertake manual labour for just £4 a day, have been revealed by Lancashire Police.
The couple worked for Mohammed Riaz, 64, of Manchester Road, Nelson and lived within the grounds of his home in an outbuilding made from materials acquired from skips. They were forced to work long shifts, sometimes up to 17 hours a day, in which they were tasked with manual labour including painting, cleaning, construction and fitting units in shops.
Whilst working, the couple were always supervised and were not permitted any breaks. They were paid very little or sometimes nothing at all. If they wanted a day off or missed a day they were told they would have to pay £7 each per day.
When they weren’t forced to work, the couple were kept in the outbuilding at Riaz’s home address, and escorted if they ever needed to leave the address. They relied on Riaz for hand-outs of food and often had to resort to scrounging through bins for leftover scraps.
Riaz was imposed with a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO) on Thursday September 21 following a four day hearing at Blackburn Magistrates’ Court.
The aim of the order, the first full order of its kind in the county, is to prevent the risk of slavery and human trafficking offences from being committed.
The conditions include that no one is to live or sleep in outbuildings at Mr Riaz’s address, he is not to knowingly employ anyone paid under the minimum wage and that he is notify police of anyone undertaking work at his property.
The result follows a trial in January where Mr Riaz stood accused of two counts of knowingly requiring another person to perform forced/ compulsory labour. The jury failed to reach a majority verdict.
A police investigation began in April 2015 when concerns were raised by social services about a Polish couple in Nelson who were believed to have been forced into work with little pay, no rest days and poor living conditions.
Officers attended the address on Manchester Road to conduct a welfare check and noticed appalling living conditions (pictured below). The couple, a man aged 25, who had been living at the address since November 2014, and woman aged 23, who had resided there since February 2015, were taken to a place of safety as investigations commenced.
Riaz was questioned by officers and in November 2015 was summonsed to court after charges were authorised by the CPS. Two months previously he had been made subject to an Interim Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order which meant he was subject to prohibitions whilst the CPS made a charging decision.
In his summing up, his honour Judge James Clarke said: “I reject his [Mr Riaz’s] evidence that he expected nothing from them by way of work or contribution to the home. I am satisfied that he instructed them to work and controlled many aspects of their lives as a consequence.”
He continued that Mr Riaz “began to exert inappropriate power and influence” over the victims. He stated that this included the “withholding of payment, the interruption of sleep, the verbal cajoling into work and restrictions on their ability to leave.”
He accepted that this “was not in a physical sense but by way of influence and control over their accommodation and income. The payment of £4 per day was in reality a bare subsistence and meant that they had no choice but to remain. I am satisfied that he treated them as individuals at his beck and call with no real freedom to refuse.”
DS Rachel Higson of the Safeguarding Team in Blackburn said: “Mr Riaz stood trial over this matter in January where the jury failed to reach a verdict and were discharged. Following consultation with the CPS and after taking into account the wishes of the complainants a decision was taken to discontinue the case. We did however continue to pursue this order to take it from an interim to a full STRO.
“This makes today’s result all the more significant as it shows that we will continue to pursue every avenue available to us to achieve justice, safeguarding those affected and prevent others from becoming victims.
“Both the man and woman affected continue to be supported to ensure that they do not become victims again and can move forward rebuilding their lives.
“If you believe either yourself, or someone you know, is being exploited, be that through forced labour or in any other way, please do not suffer in silence. Look out for others in your communities. If something doesn’t seem right, call us on 101.”
For more information about spotting the signs and where to get further help and advice, visit http://www.lancashire.police.uk/help-advice/safer-communities/modern-slavery.aspx
Information can also be shared anonymously through the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. There is also a national Modern Slavery Helpline offering confidential help and advice, you can also report information to them on 0800 121 700.