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Romanian ‘slave’ was ‘forced to live under the stairs like Harry Potter

A Romanian ‘slave’ was forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs like Harry Potter, had to cut lawn by hand and was given just £1 a day to buy biscuits by three captors at a property in Bristol. 

Gabriel Nicolae was forced by his three captors to sleep in a cramped space, a court heard.

Neighbours saw him washing his clothes on stones in the back garden and using a hose to wash dishes and give himself showers.

He was also seen to go to and from bushes near a wood on several occasions to use the toilet.

The cupboard under the stairs that Gabriel Nicolae was made to live by his three captors

On one occasion, one of the three defendants was seen throwing eggs and flour over Mr Nicolae, who didn’t seem to protest, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Ion Boboc, 26, Christiana Tudor-Dobre, 24, and Mihai-Aurel Dan, 36, from St Anne’s Park in Bristol, are on trial.

They deny charges of holding a person in slavery or servitude, and fraud by false representation.

The court heard today, Tuesday 22 January that the three defendants gave Mr Nicolae money for his weekly bus ticket, and £1 or so a day to buy biscuits.

The enslaved victim said in a police interview that he earned £300-£350 per week working full-time in an abattoir.

But, despite this, the jury heard Mr Nicolae didn’t have enough money to buy food, stole from shops on his days off and was eventually arrested.

He was cooked an evening meal by Tudor-Dobre, who lived upstairs with Boboc and Dan in two bedrooms.

And at weekends Mr Nicolae was given about £10 to buy himself cannabis, the court was told.

Some of the items belonging to Gabriel Nicolae, who was made to live under the stairs at an address in Bristol

Some of the items belonging to Gabriel Nicolae, who was made to live under the stairs at an address in Bristol

Whenever he asked for more money he was told there wasn’t enough to give him. He had a Nokia phone without internet access.

Charles Thomas, prosecuting, told how police visited the three-bedroom home in Evans Close, Bristol, on July 27 last year.

He said: ‘Police were surprised when Gabriel Nicolae emerged from the cupboard under the stairs. He looked dishevelled.

‘It became apparent that this small space was where Gabriel Nicolae was living and sleeping.’

The three defendants were arrested and removed from the house. Mr Nicolae remained and got a drink of water from a hose attached to an outside tap.

But when an officer intervened and took him to a kitchen tap he became anxious, apparently believing he wasn’t allowed to use it.

A search of the property revealed the under stairs cupboard was Mr Nicolae’s bedroom.

Some of his possessions were in the garage and, in a bedroom used by Boboc and Tudor-Dobre were his ID card, bank card, financial documents and mobile phone contracts.

Mr Thomas said tenancy at the property was in the name of Mr Nicolae, Boboc and Tudor-Dobre.

Mr Nicolae told police the three defendants were like family to him.

It was heard that he came to the UK after his friend became a sex worker for a man called Alin in Hemel Hempstead.

Tudor-Dobre was also working for Alin, and in due course Mr Nicolae, the woman, Tudor-Dobre and Boboc lived together.

He said he knew his personal documents were at the house, and flight tickets bought by him had been used by a friend.

He also said he thought he had an account with HSBC. It transpired he didn’t know he actually had an account at Lloyds and his wages were being paid into that.

In the summer of 2017 Boboc found Mr Nicolae a job at an abattoir and Nicolae, Boboc and Tudor-Dobre came to Bristol.

Mr Thomas said that, from the outset, it appears Boboc controlled Mr Nicolae’s work and wages.

Mr Nicolae said animals were put in his (Nicolae’s) room and made it stink.

He said he would have to wash his clothes in the town centre, eat food in his room and was not allowed to use the kitchen.

He claimed Boboc stabbed him twice in the hand due to his perceived attitude, and had also struck him.

He confirmed he slept under the stairs, as there was no room available for him, and he was not allowed to use the kitchen or wash his clothes or dishes.

He had to wash and eat outside and would either shower with a hose or be given £10 to use a swimming pool at a hotel.

He said he had to use a wood as a toilet and was not allowed a house key.

Neighbours also saw him returning with several shopping bags, even though the defendants had access to a car.

When he was seen cutting the lawn with his hands, a neighbour took him a lawn mower, the court heard.

It is the prosecution’s case that, without money, transport and ID documents, and limited English, escape was not realistic for him – he didn’t even know that 999 could be used to ring in an emergency.

It is claimed Mr Nicolae was forced to perform compulsory labour for the defendants, under force.

The trial continues.

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