A cruel couple have been convicted of running a human trafficking network in Bristol after the National Crime Agency (NCA) rescued five men being kept as modern slaves in a house in Brentry.
The slaves, brought over from Slovakia, were forced to work at a car wash while living in cramped conditions in a three-bedroom home in Brentry Lane.
Bristol Crown Court heard how Maros Tancos, 45, and Joanna Gomulska, aged 46, ran the network by keeping their victims in the property having promised them a new life in the UK.
The people targeted received no money and earnings - which were instead spent by the defendants on online gambling, in casinos, on buying cars or their own living costs. The victims also had their identity documents and phones taken off them.
They were forced to work at a car wash business during the day, and on other jobs at night.
Tancos, of Brentry Lane, and Gomulska, of Thornycroft Close, Lockleaze, would also take victims to open bank accounts and apply for loans or credit cards in their names.
Between 2010 and 2017, almost £300,000 was transferred from the victims’ accounts.
At the crown court today (April 4), Tancos and Gomulska were convicted by a jury of human trafficking offences including conspiracy to traffic persons into the UK for labour exploitation. They will be sentenced on 26 May.
In statements, victims described their time with the defendants as ‘catastrophic’ and said they were humiliated, hit and punished by Tancos. Another described returning to Slovakia when she fell pregnant, with her child being born malnourished and suffering epileptic fits because she had no money to bring back from the UK for food.
Victims described living with ten people in the three-bedroom home in Brentry, sharing one bathroom and sleeping on dirty mattresses.
Tancos and Gomulska made their victims work under any circumstances. One described an occasion where he broke his arm and had it set in a cast at hospital. They still made him continue to work in the car wash.
The couple were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery and human trafficking offences in July 2017. Both denied their involvement but following a trial spanning almost three months, including evidence from 15 victims, they were convicted by the jury.
Branch Commander Colin Williams, from the NCA, said: “Tancos and Gomulska treated their victims as possessions, exploiting their hope of a better life for themselves and their families to keep them in a never ending cycle of abuse. They were prisoners. The experiences they shared in court showed how mentally broken the couple left them.
“These people came from impoverished backgrounds to the UK with optimism, but instead had their vulnerability taken advantage of. Whilst they suffered, Tancos and Gomulska spent their victims’ wages on gambling and cars.
“The support from our international partners in Slovakia was pivotal in being able to trace victims who had returned home and meant they could give evidence via video links detailing the couple’s abhorrent behaviour dating back to 2008.
“Tackling human trafficking is one of our highest priorities, and we will continue to work with partners to pursue offenders and protect victims.”
The NCA launched a new campaign recently urging people to think about where they spend their money to avoid inadvertently supporting modern slavery. For information on signs to look out for vist nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/ethicalconsumerchoices