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Vulnerable man brought to work in UK ‘denied access to wages and clean clothes’

Two men and a woman are now on trial at Newport Crown Court charged with modern slavery offences (PA)
Two men and a woman are now on trial at Newport Crown Court charged with modern slavery offences (PA)

A vulnerable man brought to the UK was forced to work and hand over his wages, stripped of his passport and bank cards and denied showers and clean clothes, a court has heard.

Latvian national Rolands Kazoks was kept in a house in Newport, South Wales, against his will, made to clean and threatened that if he did not pay off an ever-increasing debt, his family at home would be targeted.

Two men and a woman are now on trial at Newport Crown Court charged with modern slavery offences.

Normunds Freibergs, 40, of Morley Close, Newport, Jokubas Stankevicius, 59, and Ruta Stankeviciene, 57, both of Capel Close, Newport, all deny requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Freibergs also denies arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation, and acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.

The court heard on Thursday how Mr Kazoks had been living in Germany but decided he wanted a better life in the UK and looked for jobs on a Latvian social media site called Draugiem.

He was introduced over the site to Friebergs, whose profile picture showed him sitting at a desk in an office with the Thomas Recruitment firm logo on the wall behind him.

That and other pictures on his account aimed to give the impression he worked for the recruitment firm, the prosecution said. He did not but had in the past been hired through the agency as a factory worker.

After being told he would be able to work in a bakery for £8.20 an hour and only pay living costs of £85 a week, Mr Kazoks travelled to Wales.

He had saved £1,000 in Germany and used this to pay between 600 and 800 euros to Freibergs, which the defendant claimed was a deposit for accommodation.

However, when he arrived he was told he would be living in a small room within the home of the other two defendants, Stankevciene and Stankevicius, on Capel Crescent.

Despite getting jobs in various factories, his debt to the three defendants spiralled as they charged him for things such as £50 for a National Insurance number, and £300 for gaining employment in a chicken factory.

During periods of unemployment the debt soared ever more, and the defendants added interest. They also increased his living costs from £85 to £95 to pay for internet and then again to £150 a week due to Brexit.

Stankevicius was said to keep a chart of Mr Kazoks’ debt on the fridge, which built into thousands of pounds.

Lowri Wynn-Morgan, prosecuting, said: “Mr Kazoks will say that whilst living at the Capel Crescent address he was threatened by Mr Freiburg and Mr Stankevicius.

“They told him, in effect, that if he said anything or left without paying his debt he would be in trouble and his family would suffer.

“They told him that bad people in Latvia would force his family to pay the money, and that Mr Stankevicius had been to prison and knew other criminals.

“The prosecution’s case is that these threats were designed to force Mr Kazoks to work by intimidation, to live in poor conditions and hand over the majority of his wages to the defendants.”

The trio are alleged to have taken control of Mr Kazok’s payslips, work email and opened bank accounts in his name.

They gave him small amounts of his own money and if he “asked for money he was told that when he paid what he owed he could buy whatever he wanted”, Ms Wynn-Morgan said.

It is alleged that in total the three took around £10,000 in wages belonging to Mr Kazok.

It was only when Mr Kazoks began working at Faccenda Foods in Abergavenny in December 2017 that concerns were raised.

His co-workers began noticing how little food he had and that he was wearing the same clothes every day.

Colleagues held a collection for him to buy trainers after he turned up for work in the winter wearing sandals.

Some said they shared food with him after they noticed him watching them eat.

Finally in October 2018 he went with a colleague to the company’s HR and said he was “ready to talk”.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and police were called and the three defendants were arrested.

All three denied the allegations claiming to have “felt sorry” for the victim and helped him gain employment.

When asked about the £10,000, Stankeviciene said she believed Mr Kazok has used it to “send money to his mum, and also buy nice clothes and nice food”.

Ms Wynn-Morgan concluded her opening saying: “Mr Freibergs recruited Mr Kazoks to come to the UK in order for him to be exploited.”

She said Mr Freibergs knew “Mr Kazoks would be placed with accomplices Mr Stankevicius and Mrs Stankeviciene, his wages pilfered, and that he would be threatened and kept in miserable conditions and required to work to pay off contrived debts”.

The trial continues.