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Polish gang forced 400 people to live and work as slaves.

Byline: RICHARD VERNALLS Reporter

THE largest-ever UK modern slavery ring, which forced more than 400 people to work for a pittance while their criminal masters earned PS2m, has been smashed.

A three-year police investigation uncovered a well-organised criminal gang led by the Brzezinski family - which preyed on the homeless, exprisoners and alcoholics from Poland. The ring lured and then trafficked vulnerable victims to the UK with the promise of good money, but instead housed them in squalor, and used them as what a judge described as "commodities".

Victims were paid as little as 50p for a day's labour and in one case a worker was given coffee and a chicken as payment for redecorating a house.

Another man had to wash in a canal because he had no other access to water, while one house's leaky toilet had to be plugged with an old duvet, such was the standard of disrepair.

One victim, describing "horrible" living conditions, said: "I would say some homeless people here in the UK live better than I lived after I arrived over here."

Victims were reduced to recycling used cigarette butts off the street, and going to soup kitchens and food banks to get enough to eat.

Meanwhile, the gang's bosses lived the high life off the backs of those they exploited, sporting lavish clothes, and driving luxury cars.

After the end of two trials, it can now be reported how five men and three women, all originally from Poland, exploited their destitute victims for pure "greed".

They have all now been convicted of modern slavery offences and seven of their number, of money laundering.

Jurors heard the accounts of more than 90 victims, but it is believed at least 350 more had been through the gang's hands, who had since either returned to home, could not be traced, or were too scared to come forward.

At the end of the second case last month, a jury at Birmingham Crown Court convicted two men, 52-year-old Ignacy Brzezinski, of Beechwood Road, West Bromwich, and Wojciech Nowakowski, 41, of James Turner Street, Birmingham, of modern slavery offences.

A third, Jan Sadowski, 26, of Dartmouth Street, West Bromwich, admitted his part on the first day of trial. Sentencing Ignacy to 11 years yesterday, the judge described the "high functioning alcoholic" as having "direct control", and "living in the nerve centre of the organisation".

She said: "As the head of the family, he set the tone of the operation, and also enjoyed the fruits of the conspiracy, riding round in his Bentley and a fleet of high performance cars at his disposal.

"His life of leisure was also financed from complainants."

The court heard that having been given bail after breaking his leg falling down the stairs during the trial, he had gone on the run since conviction, having "abused the compassion of the court", the judge added.

Jailing Nowakowski for six-and-ahalf years, Judge Tracey described him a one-time victim of the conspiracy, who had risen to become a "spy and enforcer" for the gang. She said: "He was fully embedded and his role was to keep the conspirators in line.

"Described as a top dog and perhaps a sergeant major, he enjoyed the power over the others."

She accepted Nowakowski had suffered a "hard life", and "battled alcoholism as well, to the point of losing his toes to frostbite after falling asleep in the snow in Poland, after drinking too much".

Judge Stacey jailed father-of-two Sadowski - the only defendant to plead guilty - for three years as he had a "lesser role".

However she said he had been integral to setting up trafficked victims' bank accounts, for the benefit of the gang's bosses.

At a previous trial ending in February, leading conspirator Marek Chowanic, along with Ignacy's cousin, Marek Brzezinski, recruitment consultant Julianna Chodakiewicz, Natalia Zmuda and Justyna Parczewska, the group's matriarch, were all convicted of their roles.

At their sentencing, Judge Stacey said their "degradation" of fellow human beings had been "totally unacceptable", jailing the five for between 11 and four-and-a-half years.

She said the defendants had subjected victims to a "demi-life of misery and poverty", robbing them of their dignity and humanity "without care or regard for the rights of the individuals affected".

The group helped in the targeting and trafficking of people from their Polish homeland, placing them in cramped, rat-infested accommodation in the Black Country and putting them to work on farms, rubbish recycling centres and poultry factories. In some cases, the gang waited outside the front gates of jails in Poland, to approach ex-cons who had just been released.

Victims, aged 17 to over 60, were housed across at least nine different addresses in West Bromwich, Walsall, Sandwell and Smethwick, crammed up to four to a room, fed out-of-date food, and forced to scavenge for mattresses to sleep on.

Chowanic, 30, of Mount Street, Walsall, Marek Brzezinski, 50, of Lindley Avenue, Tipton, Chodakiewicz, 24, of Evesham, Worcestershire, Zmuda, 29, of Canute Close, Walsall, and Parczewska, 48, of Beechwood Road, West Bromwich, were jailed in March.

Chowanic was jailed for 11 years, Marek Brzezinski, nine years, Chodakiewicz, five-and-a-half years, Parczewska, five years and Zmuda, four-and-a-half years.

CAPTION(S):

Ignacy Brzezinski was head of the family and lived in the nerve centre of the operation. The gang had a fleet of highpowered cars at their disposal, including a Bentley, below

Victims lived in miserable conditions. In one case a duvet was used to prevent a toilet from leaking, right
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Author:RICHARD VERNALLS Reporter
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 6, 2019
Words:912
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