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'Prison in Poland was better than this': Slavery victim reveals brutal Black Country gang treatment

A victim of Britain's largest modern slavery ring said being locked in a Polish prison was "better" than conditions he was forced to endure by gang-masters in the Black Country.

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Slavery victim Miroslaw Lehmann had recently been released from jail when he was targeted

Miroslaw Lehmann was one of more than 400 estimated victims ensnared by the family-run operation, which trafficked and exploited vulnerable workers for greed.

It is believed the eight co-conspirators convicted of modern slavery and money laundering offences made £2 million from their criminal enterprise - all off the backs of the exploited workers' labour.

The 38-year-old, originally from Poznan, Poland, was brought to the UK in February 2014, after gang members approached him at a bus station, promising work in England.

A leaking toilet was plugged with an old toilet in one of the bedsits

Mr Lehmann had just been released from jail and - like dozens of the gang's other victims - had "nowhere to go".

'I wanted a new life'

Asked why he had wanted to come to the UK, he said: "To be honest, (I wanted) to start a new life - but I didn't know that the new life would start with some really big problems."

Mr Lehmann, speaking through a translator, said: "They asked me if I wanted to come to England to work.

WATCH: Slavery victim reveals shocking treatment

"I said I didn't have any money as I had just left prison and they said they would pay for my ticket and then I would have to pay back the money."

As he made the journey to the UK, he described how the gang picked up other vulnerable victims who spoke to him of "some other fee, or some other money to pay" the gang for transport.

On arriving, he along with others then endured "horrible" and squalid living conditions, with up to four people to a room in homes dotted across the Black Country in West Bromwich, Smethwick and Walsall.

Some of the debit and credit cards registered in the victims' names

When asked about the accommodation, Mr Lehmann said: "I would say some homeless people here in the UK live better than I lived after I arrived over here.

"There was no heating, no secure windows, cold water, sleeping on the floor on some mattresses, covering yourself with your own clothing."

'They were controlling me'

Asked how he was treated by the traffickers, Mr Lehmann said: "Initially everything seemed OK but later on they started treating me like a thief or something like that.

"They were following me, controlling me - you couldn't leave the house because you were being followed.

"You couldn't just go for a walk."


He added: "In Poland, when I was in prison, it was better than being in this house."

Mr Lehmann was forced to do housing renovation work, decorating, painting walls, clearing gardens and cutting grass.

"I didn't do these jobs for long - but in a week it would be 12-13 hours at a time," he said.

Threatened and beaten

The callous gang-masters deducted any "pay" he may have earned, telling him the cash had gone towards paying to bring him to the UK.

He feared asking about money, "because I knew what would happen - threatening, beating".

Eventually Mr Lehmann broke free of the traffickers' grip, with the help of a Polish man working with the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice, who had been giving out dinners for homeless people.

"I felt better, I knew there would be no forcing you to do things you didn't want to do," he said.

WATCH: Four-year police operation explained

He said what the traffickers had done to him and others was "indescribable", and that seeing them behind bars would be a "relief".

"They wouldn't be able to drag other people into their dodgy dealings where they were making money off the back of somebody else," he said.

At a trial, ending in February, Marek Chowanic, Marek Brzezinski, Juliana Chodakiewicz, Natalia Zmuda and Justyna Parczewska were convicted of their roles in the conspiracy, and jailed for between four-and-a-half and 11 years.

Following a separate trial last month, Ignacy Brzezinski, of Beechwood Road, West Bromwich, Wojciech Nowakowski, of James Turner Street, Birmingham, and Jan Sadowski, of Dartmouth Street, West Bromwich, were also convicted for their part in the enterprise.

On Friday they were jailed for 11 years, six-and-a-half years and three years respectively.

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