- Gang ‘picked up homeless people in Slovakia and trafficked them to Britain
- Court told hey put them to work, but pocketed most of the money they made
- Gang also claimed benefits in the slaves’ names, a trial in Teesside was told
- Eight members of a family, including one youth, deny trafficking charges
A Romany gang trafficked slaves into UK before using them to claim benefits which they pocketed themselves, a court has heard.
Homeless people were picked up by associates of the Rafael family on the streets of Slovakia and the Czech Republic and brought to Newcastle where theywere forced to live in cellars or sleepseveral to a bed in cramped rooms.
The Rafaels allegedly arranged National Insurance numbers for the EU nationals and used them to claim benefits, which they kept for themselves,prosecutors claim.
Slaves, who changed hands for £200 to £300, were fed stale bread and goulash while the family of nine enjoyed expensive alcohol and food, one of their alleged victims told a jury.
The family also claimed housing benefit and one had an SUV car under the Government’s mobility scheme, a court was told.
Prosecutor John Elvidge, QC, told Teesside Crown Court: ‘The defendants were running a family business and the business was slavery. Each defendant knew what was going on and each played a part in it.’
The Rafaels ran their slavery empire from terraced houses in the run-down West End of Newcastle upon Tyne between 2010 and last year, a jury was told.
There was a plan to marry them to Africans so the women could remain in the UK, the court heard.
The family also used government agencies to find work for the people they enslaved, it is claimed. Victims were allegedly paid £400 per week, but they were given just £60 by the family, who took the rest.
Mr Elvidge told the court: ‘This case is about people involved in what can be described as the modern slave trade.
‘The victims in this case were people with no independent means and limited or no understanding of the English language.
‘The defendants in the case knew how to use government and recruitment agencies to exploit them. That exploitation involved the systematic targeting of homeless and destitute people in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
‘These people were transferred to the UK and on arrival taken to Newcastle upon Tyne where the defendants housed them in bare or basic conditions.
‘The defendants sent them out to work and their earnings were paid into accounts controlled by the defendants, for the benefit of the defendants and their family.
‘Even though they might earn hundreds of pounds a week the victims were given a tiny fraction of their income as an allowance while their true earnings were taken by the Rafaels.
‘The rest was taken to cover their transfer to the UK or their rent, when the truth is that the defendants were making their living from them while they were sharing beds or living in a cellar.
‘But taking their wages was only part of this criminal scheme.
‘National Insurance numbers were arranged for those trafficked and the acquisition of these meant they could claim state welfare benefits and credits which were paid into accounts controlled by the defendants rather than the victims.
‘Likewise, loans were taken out using their NI numbers and addresses. The loan applications were not for the intended recipients but were a way of making more money for the Rafael family from bringing these people into the country and keeping them here.’
Mr Elvidge said the victims were trapped in the UK; with no papers and no money of their own they were entirely reliant on their slavemasters to keep them.
Two men escaped from their basic lodgings in Newcastle and fled to Manchester Airport but were forced to return.
Mr Elvidge said the family were from Slovakia, part of a Romany community which had its own dialect.
The family used the cash they brought in for a better lifestyle, splashing out on cars and holidays, it was claimed.
Mr Elvidge said: ‘A victim of trafficking may generate thousands of pounds but receive just a fraction of that.
‘It was a professional criminal enterprise designed to generate money to enable the Rafaels to enjoy a better life with better cars and better holidays.’
The court heard that while taking cash from their salves for rent the family had successfully applied for housing benefit, so their homes were being paid for by the council.
One of the gang, Stefan Rafael, drove a Kia Sportage 4×4 which he qualified for under the mobility car scheme, a jury was told.
The seven defendants on trial Stefan Rafael, 62, Juraj Rafael, 38, Ruzena Rafaelova, 57, Ruzela Rafaelova, 37, Marianne Rafaelova, 34 and Angelika Chec, 29, are on trial. They deny conspiracy to traffic with a view to exploitation, money laundering and causing forced labour.
A youth aged 17 faces the same charges.
Prosecutor Mr Elvidge said: ‘The father felt humiliated and felt he had been traded like a dog. He subsequently discovered the going price for a slave was £200 to £300 depending on their ability.
‘They were taken to a house where they shared a double bed in a cellar and where food was left out for them on a bench to collect.’
The pair tried to flee via Manchester Airport but had to return to their captors.
Marianne Rafaelova allegedly told them: ‘This is just an island, you will not escape, nobody escapes from here.’
One of the Rafael family’s victims spoke of his life of misery under their control – revealing the masters partied while the slaves ate out-of-date bread and goulash.
He worked six days a week from 10am to 10pmfor £5-a-day and was forced to steal by the Rafaels.
The slave and his father were first sold by a man known as Lazo, who flew them from Slovakia, to Roman Rafael. He in turn sold them on to his brother Marian Rafael, known as Checko.
In a video interview with Northumbria Police played to the court the man said: ‘In Slovakia they told us they could find us work that was well paid, enough to buy a house for my mother.
‘But when I reached Newcastle I worked as a slave unloading tyres from lorries, sometimes until 10 o,clock at night, including on Saturdays. Checko was giving me only £5.’
When he asked why he was being given so little he was told by the Rafaels: ‘In Britain you have to earn money for Queen Elizabeth.’
He said: ‘There were house rules. we were fed only bits of potato and goulash that was after its expiry date. The portions they gave us were very small.
‘They provided us with bread but I couldn’t eat it, it made me feel sick. I threw it away rather than eat it. The British people gave us meals when we got to work.
‘While this was happening the Rafaels were drinking expensive alcohol and having parties but they gave us nothing.
‘We had to do everything in the house; cleaning, sweeping and working in Newcastle, but I never saw a contract.’
He said the Rafaels ruled by intimidation.
He said: ‘They told me that if I tried to escape my throat would be cut or I would be thrown in the sea because this was an island we were living on.
‘I cannot read or write and they exploited this. They forced me to steal.’