Family of human traffickers jailed after enslaving homeless people and putting them to work

Northumbria Police images of members of a Slovakian family of people traffickers (top row left to right) Angelica Chec, Marian Rafael, Roman Rafael, (bottom row left to right) Ruzena Rafaelova, Ruzena Rafaelova and Juraj Rafael who have been jailed at Teesside Crown Court after they made hundreds of thousands of pounds enslaving homeless people from central Europe.
Northumbria Police images of members of a Slovakian family of people traffickers (top row left to right) Angelica Chec, Marian Rafael, Roman Rafael, (bottom row left to right) Ruzena Rafaelova, Ruzena Rafaelova and Juraj Rafael who have been jailed at Teesside Crown Court after they made hundreds of thousands of pounds enslaving homeless people from central Europe.

A family of human traffickers who made hundreds of thousands of pounds enslaving homeless people from central Europe have been jailed.

The Newcastle-based Rafael family brought vulnerable people into the UK over a seven-year period and forced them to work long hours for next to nothing.

The gang also claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits for their victims and even took out loans in their names.

They spent the profits on gold and jewellery, casino trips, Mediterranean holidays and £10,000 cash on an Audi Q7.

Their victims, some of them homeless people picked up in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, were made to sleep in cellars and crammed into shared rooms.

Brothers Roman Rafael, 33, and Marian Rafael, 39, who were the gang leaders, were each sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at Teeside Crown Court on Friday, Northumbria Police said.

They previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit slavery, conspiracy to traffic people for exploitation and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Roman's wife Angelica Chec, 30, and Marian's wife Ruzena Rafaelova, 38, were both sentenced to five years.

The ringleaders' 58-year-old mother, also called Ruzena Rafaelova, and cousin Juraj Rafael, 38, were each jailed for four years.

A 17-year-old boy, who cannot be identified, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Victims were flown into the UK with the promise of work, bought and sold for as little as £200 each, put into low quality housing in Newcastle's west end and sent out to work long hours via agencies, recycling tyres, washing cars, reclaiming bricks or at food factories.

The Rafaels would only allow them a fraction of what they earned, controlled their bank accounts and kept their identity documents.

Detective Inspector Sally Macdonald of Northumbria Police said: "These offenders have carried out terrible crimes over many years and deserve to spend many years behind bars.

"The victims themselves played a huge part in securing the convictions, and their bravery in coming to court over the past 14 weeks to tell the story of how they've been exploited should be commended.

"Often people don't realise they are victims of slavery and so it is important that the police and people in the community are vigilant so together we can tackle this crime."

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: "Nobody deserves to feel intimidated, isolated and live in fear.

"We have a responsibility to victims to work together with partners to identify and tackle this type of crime and do everything within our power to safeguard them and other vulnerable people."