A £500 fine handed down to a Romanian man who pleaded guilty to operating as an illegal gangmaster has been described as ‘scandalous’ by Upper Bann MP David Simpson.
Gheorge Ionas pleaded guilty at Criagavon Magistrates Court on Tuesday, October 8, to operating as a gangmaster without a licence.
The court heard that officers from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and police searched Mr Ionas’ home in Albert Avenue in Lurgan, on 2 October 2013.
The GLA said a number of Romanians were living in appalling conditions and scavenging for food.
Mr Simpson said the sentence ‘defies belief’. “Here we had an open and shut case of innocent people being exploited ruthlessly as forced labour and a judge determines that a £500 fine is sufficient to fit the crime. It is not. I welcome the fact that the Gangmaster Licensing Authority has said they will be appealing this decision and I hope they are successful. What sort of a message does it send out when the punishment handed down for operating as an illegal gang-master is a fine equivalent to one-fifth of the cost of a license to operate as a legal one?
“The brutal treatment handed out to these innocent people is sadly not isolated. Throughout the United Kingdom people are being trafficked and exploited. The reason this happens is simple: there are massive profits to be made from exploiting people, whether it be for forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation and there is a demand. So long as there is demand for slaves there will be people prepared to supply them.
“Over the last number of months we have seen a number of human trafficking and exploitation cases where victims have been rescued from within the heart of our community. This brings into sharp focus the need for strong legislation locally to deal with these horrendous crimes. That is why I support the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill that my colleague Lord Morrow has brought before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“The Bill if passed will help to give judges in Northern Ireland a clear sentencing framework in which to operate and should ensure that such scandalous decisions do not happen again”.
Lord Morrow has backed calls to have the sentencing reviewed in the case, describing the suffering of victims as equating to very little in the eyes of the court.
“The £500 fine imposed on Gheorge Ionas at Craigavon Court, is a shameful indictment on what was in effect to de-humanising of victims in this case. I am disgusted at the leniency shown in a case where significant money was made from the suffering of victims.”
“I welcome the announcement by Paul Broadbent of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in his call for a review of sentencing, and wholeheartedly share his repugnance for this nominal fine.
“The victims in this case have been dealt a double blow – first at the hands of their controller and again by the courts.”