A woman who trafficked vulnerable Lithuanian workers to Bristol locked them in a squalid house and forced them to hand out charity collection bags for little or no pay has been jailed for three years.
Jurate Grigelyte, 53, hand-picked men and women with no grasp of English who were told they had to work for free for long periods to pay back the cost of the journey, Bristol Crown Court was told.
One pregnant woman was denied healthcare while working for Grigelyte and suffered a miscarriage. Another victim was told he would be run over if he disobeyed her.
Workers were each forced to hand out and collect 1,000 clothing bags for the charity Dreams Come True while driven around Avon and Somerset in the back of a Transit van with no seats or windows.
The charity, which helps terminally ill children, had outsourced the distribution and collection of bags through several companies, meaning less than 10 per cent of the money raised by recycling clothes ended up going to the cause.
The court heard most of the victims were middle-aged men who were charged rent, which was taken out of their wages, for living in a cramped shared room. Fines of £50 – “two days” wages – were charged for missing a day’s work or being caught with alcohol. It meant she would often calculate her workers were owed no money by the end of a week.
Grigelyte, who came to Britain in 2009, admitted trafficking and forced labour charges relating to nine men and two women, although police believe there were many more. She lived with her victims in a squalid five-bedroom semi in Easton in Bristol. It had two bathrooms for its 12 residents, but one was reserved just for Grigelyte. Anyone caught using her toilet was fined.
Rupert Lowe, prosecuting, said she exploited her victims ruthlessly and paid them little, forcing many to use soup kitchens for meals. Most of the victims were brought over from the same city, Siauliai, in Lithuania. Many have since moved back. On one occasion she threatened to run over Vitalijus Kazilionis if he disobeyed her. A friend of his who stayed for a night was beaten with a stick when she saw him. The boyfriend of one of the victims said: “People worked flat out and nobody was paid; all the money went to her.”
Even after people demanded money she would stall. “Week after week she dragged it out. She’d say ‘oh, [the charity] haven’t transferred the money’,” he told The Independent. “People who worked for her had nowhere else to go.
Detective Constable Richard O’Brien said: “These victims have been treated appallingly and have been forced to endure conditions no worker should ever have to face.”
Peter Newman, of Dreams Come True, said: “This is the first I have heard of this case and of any link to us or to our recycling partner, Byronswell Ltd. It is horrifying and we are appalled at what Ms Grigelyte has been convicted of. I am investigating the connection to Byronswell with whom we have a clear code of conduct.”