A former factory owner from Batley has been jailed for 27 months for people trafficking.
“Pillar of the community” Mohammed Rafiq, 60, of Thorncliffe Road, Staincliffe, was found guilty of conspiracy to traffic at Leeds Crown Court on January 20 and was handed his sentence this afternoon.
His conviction is thought to be the first of a company boss for that offence in the UK.
The court was told how the five complainants in this case were exploited at Rafiq’s Kozee Sleep factory in Dewsbury between 2012 and December 2014.
The company supplied beds to well-known retailers such as Next, Dunelm Mill and John Lewis.
Hungarians Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes supplied the victims to company boss Rafiq and have already been jailed.
During the trial the court was told how the victims worked up to 16 hours a day for as little as £10 per week.
Judge Christopher Batty said that Rafiq’s motivation for the exploiting the five Hungarian complainants was financial.
He said: “You gambled a great deal when you got into this arrangement with Orsos.
“You’ve lost it all. You were a pillar of the community. Now, as one of your references described, you are a fallen man.
“You lost it all. I’m now afraid to say you must lose your liberty.”
He then jailed Rafiq for 27 months, of which he must serve half before eligible for release on licence.
Mr Batty told Rafiq: “There can be no doubt that you were very much in charge of this business. You made all the major decisions. You were the one who decided who could work there.
“You were the one who commenced the relationship with Janos Orsos. I’m satisfied that you agreed to pay £3 an hour for his labour.
“You made the arrangement that Orsos would be paid directly and not his Hungarian workforce.”
At least 48 victims who worked at the factory had been living in two properties, the court was told.
One of these was Gothic House in Batley. “You rented Gothic House to Orsos. You visited Gothic House, evidence suggest, on more than one occasion,” said Mr Batty.
Pakistan-born Rafiq came to England from Libya aged 20 and worked in bed-making since that time.
Financial problems later blighted Kozee Sleep, which went into administration in May 2015.
Defence barrister Richard Christie QC said: “He has lost, effectively, his life’s work and his livelihood going forward.”
Mr Christie added that Rafiq “expresses a very great deal of remorse.”
Prosecutor Christopher Tehrani QC said that if Rafiq was remorseful it had come “little late in the day.”
Mr Batty said that human trafficking is a blight on society.
Speaking after the hearing Gavin Hotchkiss, reviewing lawyer, Complex Casework Unit, CPS Yorkshire and Humberside said:“Large numbers of Hungarian men were employed by Rafiq at his Kozee Sleep and Layzee Beds factories in West Yorkshire.
“Rafiq was aware of the circumstances of the Hungarian nationals who were working at his factories and were exploited as a slave workforce.
“This defendant was part of a persistent and heartless campaign of exploitation involving many Hungarian men over a prolonged period of time. These men were vulnerable and desperate for work; they were promised good wages and accommodation.
“Once in the UK they faced a very different reality, living in shared, squalid and grossly overcrowded accommodation, some of which was provided by Rafiq. They worked for anything up to 20 hours a day, five to seven days a week, for little or no wages. The money they earned was passed to the trafficking gang, who then handed over minimal amounts to the victims.
“The sentence handed down today is a clear warning that the exploitation of vulnerable workers will not be tolerated.”