A 53-year-old woman who exploited vulnerable immigrants and kept them in cramped conditions, including at a property in Brislington, has today been jailed for three years.
Jurate Grigelyte, of Hathway Walk, Easton, trafficked people into the UK from Lithuania and forced them to live and work in squalid conditions.
She admitted 10 charges of facilitating entry into the UK with a view to exploiting labour, 10 charges of trafficking around the UK and one count of forced labour, and was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court.
In addition to the jail sentence, Grigelyte was also issued with a Serious Crime Prevention Order (SCPO).
The charges relate to 11 victims – two women and nine men – who were trafficked here with the promise of work and then kept in cramped conditions at rented properties, including n Sherwell Road n Brislington, another in Easton and one in Eastville.
The victims ranged in age from 18 to their late 60s and there were two children with them – a 14-year-old girl and six-year-old boy – but they were not forced to work.
Investigating officer Det Con Richard O’Brien said: “These victims have been treated appallingly and have been forced to endure conditions no worker should ever have to face.
“Jurate Grigelyte would pay for the bus fare to transport workers from Lithuania to the UK, which she would deduct from wages that they were never paid.
“Once they arrived in Bristol, some of the victims would deliver charity bags door-to-door and collect the bags once they were full. Others would sort through the clothing and bric-a-brac collected.
“They were transported around the South West in vans with no seats or windows and often worked from 5am to 6pm.
“Grigelyte would force them to live in rented properties in poor conditions and would lock them inside, only allowing them to leave through a window. They had no money to buy food and at one stage were living solely off potatoes. Many were forced to find food at a free food kitchen in Stapleton Road.
“Grigelyte would fine them if they drank alcohol, were sick and unable to work, or if they hadn’t delivered enough bags. They were also not allowed to use the same toilet as Grigelyte and would again be fined for doing so.”
Police arrested Grigelyte last November after a school raised concerns about the welfare of the six-year-old boy, who was the son of one of the victims.
Six of the victims were referred through the UK Human Trafficking Centre’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and taken to a place of safety.
Det Con O’Brien added: “The Salvation Army oversaw the relocation of the victims to a place of safety and they provided a sensitive and dynamic service, ensuring they were looked after and all their needs were met.
“The other victims were looked after within the Lithuanian community and declined the offer of being referred through the NRM.
“Forced labour and exploitation of this kind is a hidden crime and is often referred to as modern-day slavery. We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable people and bringing victims to safety as quickly as possible and we have formed positive relationships with our partners to ensure we are working together to achieve this.
“We are getting better all the time at spotting the signs of exploitation and I would urge anyone who thinks they may know of someone who is being forced to work against their will, or who may be a victim of exploitation, to report it to police.”
CPS Senior Crown Prosecutor Siobhan Heron said: “As a result of the victims’ courage in coming forward and speaking of their experiences and the meticulous investigation carried out by Avon & Somerset Police, working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, the evidence against the defendant Jurate Grigelyte was overwhelming.
“Faced with the overwhelming evidence she has pleaded guilty to these serious offences and the trial process for the victims has been avoided.
“We know that instances of trafficking people for the purposes of exploitation are a very real and widespread problem for our modern society.
“Nobody has the right to treat others in this appalling way and we hope that the outcome of this case will give other victims, who may find themselves in a similar situation, the confidence to come forward.”