It was a daring and audacious rescue mission. Upon its success rested the freedom, perhaps even the lives, of up to 45 men locked into a back-breaking life of slavery and forced to live in the most appallingly squalid conditions.
An unlikely squad of former policemen and soldiers working for the charity Hope For Justice – whose mission is to end human trafficking – had uncovered their plight.
And after weeks of detective work and meticulous planning, they were determined to free them.
The team had been tipped off about a suspected trafficking ring centred on the bed-making firm Kozee Sleep in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
In a highly secret mission, they put the factory under surveillance and made tentative contact with some of the Hungarian workers.
After much coaxing, they identified a house in Bradford, where the men were being held captive.
And in a clandestine operation in the early hours, an undercover worker for the charity who was leading the operation gave the order to move in.
The men were just some of scores of vulnerable Hungarian immigrants who have been lured to this country with the promise of well-paid work. But in reality this is a shameful tale of people trafficking and slavery.
Some had their passports stolen by unscrupulous masters and were forced to slog for up to 16 hours a day for just £10 a week… all to make beds sold in High Street stores including John Lewis and Next.
Mohammed Rafiq (pictured), 60, the owner of Kozee Sleep, became the first company boss to be convicted of human trafficking and running a sweat shop in the UK
Eight men were able to flee their hellish existence that night, with the charity’s help – but it was tricky.
The men were told to leave the house and meet the charity’s undercover team at an agreed spot, from where they would be taken to safety.
But the first rendezvous point was abandoned because the men were terrified that the traffickers were on to them and would hunt them down.
The petrified men were eventually picked up in a supermarket car park, hiding in the darkness, behind recycling bins and bushes.
The police, who were kept fully informed by the charity and were able to prepare a prosecution, would later learn that the men had been trafficked to Britain by slavemasters who were getting rich by selling their labour for £3-an-hour to a local furniture maker, while paying the workers a pittance, with a few extras thrown in such as cigarettes and basic food.
And they were housed in appalling conditions. At one address, scores of men were found to be crammed into one squalid three-bedroom house.
After a major police operation, Mohammed Rafiq, the 60-year-old owner of Kozee Sleep, last month became the first company boss to be convicted of human trafficking and running a sweat shop in the UK.
This pillar of the local business community had been harbouring a shameful secret – an army of slave labour. He was sentenced to two years and three months in jail.
It seemed unimaginable to me that slavery could be alive and well in Britain almost 200 years after it was abolished. But during my investigation, I heard some remarkable stories from victims.
One of the Hungarians – ‘Daniel’ (not his real name) – told me how he was lured from the poverty of his homeland by the promise of a well-paid factory job but instead was held captive in Britain with veiled threats that his family would be harmed if he left…
From Mail Online
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