Dozens of labourers and cleaners were forced into slave labour earning as little as £1.80 an hour and compelled to live in cockroach and rat-infested squalor by three Romanian brothers who pocketed £2.5million from their misery.
Alexandru Lupu, 43, and his younger siblings Grigore, 39, and Valentin, 24, have been jailed for a combined total of 28 years after their five-year campaign of terror in Britain.
Police found more than 30 people were cooped up in a three-bedroom terraced house in east London, where hot water was rationed, lights were shut off at 8pm and women slept and changed in a bedroom sectioned off from men by a threadbare curtain.
Victims had been recruited in Romania and offered work and a better life in England -or were Romanians found living on the streets in London and conned with the promise of a well-paid job and a nice place to live.
But the Lupu brothers were in fact gangmasters who made millions of pounds siphoning off cash from their pay packets, forcing them to accept around £18 per day in pay and filthy accommodation in north London.
The oldest brother Alexandru leased at least three properties in east London used to house the Romanian slaves.
And the two younger siblings, Valentin and Grigore, would beat and threaten any workers who raised objections to the oppressive regime.
Police discovered that for five years more than 30 Romanians found in their home country or living in Britain already lived in squalor in this three-bedroom house where beds were squeezed into every room
Areas for men and women were only split with threadbare curtains where victims described these hovels being infested with insects and rats
Romanian victim worked as a Premier Inn chambermaid for £1.80 an hour with one day off a fortnight
A Romanian woman told the Lupu trial how she was made to clean hotel rooms for £1.80 a hour and live in cockroach infested hovel where hot water was rationed and the lights were switched off at 8pm.
The woman slept in a bedroom partitioned off from men by a threadbare curtain and was too terrified to get out of her work clothes.
She arrived in Wembley, northwest London on 2 September 2015 on a coach and slept rough in a park before starting work for a family of Romanians.
The woman was forced to work for the Lupu brothers as a chambermaid at the Premier Inn hotel at Waterloo cleaning three bedrooms an hour.
Valentin Lupu, 24, along with brothers Grigore, 39, and Alexandru, 43, profited from her misery and other victims for five years.
Speaking from behind a screen she had told the court: ‘There was a curtain in the middle of the room where they had beds and the curtain was separating the couples from the men.
‘I said four because in fact there were many more and I was never sure of the names.
‘You can imagine would change in the bathroom, but I could not sleep in at ease in my PJs.
‘The curtain would move it would be pulled across because they had to get to the door.’
She told the jury while she was living at 15 Bower House, Barking, during 2015 she slept in the clothes she worked in.
‘There was hot water, but it would stop precisely when you were having a bath. We were given a ration.
‘The main part for switching the water on and off was in the kitchen.
‘I was working around eight hours day seven days a week with one day off every two weeks.’
Their five-year campaign was revealed when a victim was later found wandering the streets of London and brought to a police station by a Salvation Army volunteer, sparking the police investigation.
A second victim’s family also contacted police who went to an address in Barking, and reported the property to the local housing authority.
One woman found by police living in one of the hovels revealed she forced to work for the Lupu brothers as a chambermaid at the Premier Inn hotel at Waterloo cleaning three bedrooms an hour for a pittance.
The three men denied but were convicted of conspiracy to require other persons to provide forced or compulsory labour. Grigore and Valentin were also convicted of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the transport of others with a view to exploitation.
Grigore and Valentin Lupu were both jailed for ten years while Alexandru Lupu was sentenced to eight years in prison at Blackfriars Crown Court last week.
Judge Judge Rajaav Shetty told the brothers: ‘This case involved the degradation of fellow human beings. It involved the denial of their humanity and failure to recognise that these are human beings who feel pain and misery just like all of us.
‘That disgusts me. In effect you were acting as gang masters. The workers were subject to debt bondage.’
Judge Shetty describing some of the appalling conditions in which some of the workers were kept.
‘Conditions were terrible. The properties were infested with rats and cockroaches. The mattresses on the floor were filthy and they were denied the ability to wash themselves daily.
‘There was clearly little regard given to the health of the workers.’
He added that ‘substantial’ custodial sentences were required.
‘These offences occurred over a long period of time.
‘The number of people exploited was large.’
Men and women working on building sites and cleaning hotels had to share small houses and flats including here in Bower House, Barking
This is the garden of Wellesley Road, Ilford, where people living there had water and energy rationed
Grigore and Valentin Lupu were both jailed for ten years while Alexandru Lupu was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
At the close of the prosecution case the judge had directed the jury to clear five other members of the Lupu family, including dad Viorel, 49, of involvement in the conspiracy.
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Viorel and wife Victorita, 51, were cleared of conspiracy to force compulsory labour and conspiracy to transport of others with a view to exploitation.
Toader Lupu, 45, Violeta Lupu, 44, and their son Ionut Lupu, 25, were also acquitted of the same charges.
The five, along with Alexandru, 43, were further cleared of money laundering.
Earlier Ian McLoughlin, prosecuting, said: ‘At its heart it is a case about exploitation. It is about those who are in a position of comparative strength and power.
‘It is the prosecution’s case that these defendants exploited and preyed on dozens of individuals who were not for a variety of reasons in a position to stand up to them.
‘For men in Romania work is scarce – that work which is available is rarely well paid, and so the attractions of coming to work in the construction industry in London are obvious.
‘However, the reality for the people from whom you will hear in the course of this trial was very different.
The Premier Inn in Waterloo where one female had been forced to work for £1.80 an hour
Bower House in Barking, east London, one of several properties leased by the gangmasters to hold their victims
‘Promises for payment made before travel were never intended to be kept. The conditions the workers were housed in were appalling.
‘Most workers were told by coming to the United Kingdom they would receive £500 for 30 days work.
‘It worked out a around £16-17 a day for a nine to ten-hour shift on a building site – so about £1.80 an hour.
‘The situation was worse than that because as rates would have been £1.80 or there about, most of the workers did not even get that.
‘The defendants simply found excuse after excuse to withhold the money. It was paid into the bank accounts controlled by the defendants and we say pocketed by them.
‘All of this added up, and evidence from various bank accounts owned by the defendants show that there was about £2.5 million in payment in respect of work done by workers and due to these workers but claimed by the defendants.
‘At one point when police visited on the house, they found 31 people living in what really could only be described as squalor.
‘At the centre of much of the evidence you will here at this trial was Valentin. It was he who offered them work in the UK.
‘He paid for transport for workers to the UK. He was responsible for organising much of the paperwork for these people to be able to work on construction sites.
‘He was the one who led the way in threatening and in some cases assaulting those who stepped out of line.
‘Grigore Lupu delivered workers to Valentin from time to time. He was also someone we suggest who assisted Valentin in making sure people did not get step out of line.
‘Grigore was in receipt of a huge amount of money and so we would suggest was deeply involved in the criminality which we suggest was undertaken by the defendants.
‘Grigore obtained fraudulent qualifications and documents needed for workers to get into the site.
‘Alexandru’s involvement was crucial, it was he who leased several of the properties which we suggest were used to house several of the workers who were exploited.’
Mr McLoughlin said workers were forced to live in squalid conditions ‘with the cockroaches, the insects, the mice.’
‘Perth Road in Ilford was an address at which Valentin lived at, along with many people who were working.
‘Bower House, Barking, this property again with a dozen, 15, 18 people living in a room.’
Valentin, and Grigore, also of Ilford and Alexandru, of Forest Gate, all denied but were convicted of conspiracy to require other persons to provide forced or compulsory labour.
Valentin and Grigore were also convicted of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the transport of others with a view to exploitation and converting criminal property.
Alexandru was acquitted of converting criminal property.
Detective Inspector Rick Sewart, from the Met’s Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit, said: ‘Modern slavery is, and will continue to be, a priority for the Met.
‘We will continue to do everything within our power to identify and apprehend those intent on trafficking human beings, and exploiting them for their own gain.
‘The key partnerships between the Met, the Romanian authorities, Europol, Eurojust and all of our other partners have been crucial to furthering this investigation into organised people trafficking and exploitation.
‘We will continue this valuable work with our international and domestic partners to prevent continued exploitation and bring offenders to justice.’