Employment agency workers allowed vulnerable foreign employees to be exploited, court told

Liverpool Crown Court
Liverpool Crown Court

Two employment agency workers allowed the exploitation of vulnerable eastern European workers who were under the control of a gangmaster, a court has heard.

Josh Beesley, 27, was sentenced to 20 months in prison at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday for his part in the treatment of the workers while Christopher Beech, 43, was given an eight-month sentence, suspended for 18 months.

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Both men had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting an unlicensed gangmaster last month, and Beesley also admitted conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of position.

The sentences came after an operation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to tackle labour exploitation found 41 Romanian workers living in Liverpool.

The court heard the Beesley and Beech had worked for employment agency Contact and dealt with another man, Alexandru, or Gheorghe, Goran, to place workers in jobs at the Birtwistles meat plant in Irlam, Manchester.

Nicola Daley, prosecuting, said Goran, and his wife Anne Marie, who remain at large, recruited workers from abroad to come to the UK, promising them accommodation and employment.

Ms Daley said the workers were housed in multiple occupancy properties, where it was not uncommon for four workers to share one room, and were transported from homes in Liverpool to the factory.

She said: "The workers were being told where to work, when to work and for how long.

"Bank accounts were being opened up in their names but they weren't having possession or control of those accounts."

Ms Daley said Beesley, of Lockerbie Place, Wigan, took a cut of the £35,000 Goran was estimated to have taken from the workers' wages between June 2016 and March 2017, although he claimed it was only about £2,000.

Beech, of Lilac Court in Congleton, Cheshire, was an operational director at the agency and visited some of the properties in Liverpool but allowed the arrangement to continue, the court heard.

Sentencing the men, Judge Sophie McKone said: "You both played your part for a considerable amount of time, about nine months, in allowing the exploitation of vulnerable workers.

"They were vulnerable because they didn't speak the language, they didn't know their rights and they were being controlled both physically and financially by another man, Mr Goran, that you both knew and to a certain extent you both knew what was happening.

"It is clear that your actions allowed the exploitation of many workers to continue over a long period of time and you Beesley particularly, in my view, had a callous disregard to the welfare of those workers."

She said the treatment of the workers fell short of modern slavery and forced labour but "not very much short".

She added: "You, Beech, turned a blind eye to what was happening to them."

Charles Lander, defending Beesley, said the father-of-two, who had debts of about £6,000, felt intimidated by Goran.

He said: "Mr Goran knew where Mr Beesley lived, Mr Goran knew Mr Beesley had children and Mr Goran knew Mr Beesley had gambling problems so, regrettably, Mr Beesley was then used by Mr Goran."

Damian Zelazowski, defending Beech, said he accepted he should have made a report about Goran's activities but the properties he visited were clean and not high occupancy.

Beech was also ordered to carry out a 10-day rehabilitation requirement and 250 hours of unpaid work.