Human trafficking gang jailed after treating Latvian woman 'as a commodity'

Court hears how victim, who may have learning disabilities, was targeted because she could be 'easily exploited'

The gang went to extraordinary measures to keep the woman imprisoned in her home; bars were placed on the windows and she was never allowed outside alone
The gang went to extraordinary measures to keep the woman imprisoned in her home; bars were placed on the windows and she was never allowed outside alone

A Latvian woman who was kept prisoner for more than a year in Manchester and Birmingham after being trafficked to the UK managed to escape by tearing off a partial address from a piece of mail and ringing her mother, who was then able to inform Interpol.

The extraordinary story was revealed at Manchester Crown Court today where the gang members who trafficked her were jailed. The judge told them they had used the woman “as a commodity”.

The 36-year-old victim, who worked as fruit picker in the forests at home in Latvia, was promised a job in the UK working with the children of Latvian families.

But when she arrived her passport was taken away and she was later married to an illegal over-stayer, Mohammed Akmal, 32, in a bogus Islamic ceremony.

Clockwise from top left: gang members Hanan Butt, Aqib Latif, Mohammed Akmal, Jekaterina Ostrovska

The victim, who speaks no English and may have learning disabilities, was plucked from her “simple life” because she would be “compliant, easily led and easily exploited”, Judge Patrick Field said.

She flew from Riga to Luton Airport in July 2013 and was collected by Hanan Butt, 27, who took her to the Slough home he shared with his wife, Jekaterina Ostrovska, 24. Then she was driven to an address in Birmingham for the fake ceremony before later being moved to two addresses in Longsight, Manchester.

The gang went to extraordinary lengths to stop her escaping. In one house, she was kept in a tiny attic bedroom while Pakistani national Akmal and the rest of his family lived downstairs. The second house had metal bars over the windows and she was not allowed outside alone.

Her ordeal ended only after she began writing down what had happened to her and managed to tear off a partial address from a piece of mail and rang her mother, who then informed Interpol. One note written by the woman and recovered by police read: “I will not forgive them for what they have done to me. If I will not return home, then blame only them and never forgive them.”

Police officers found the woman by analysing mobile phone signals after discovering she had been moved to a new address.

Butt, of Stoke Road, Slough, was jailed for two years and eight months after he pleaded guilty to human trafficking, while Ostrovska, also of Stoke Road, was jailed for two and a half years after she admitted conspiracy to traffick for exploitation.

The woman's ordeal ended only after she began writing down what had happened to her and managed to tear off a partial address from a piece of mail and rang her mother, who then informed Interpol

Akmal, of Meade Grove, Longsight, who is subject to a deportation notice, was jailed for 20 months after he was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to seek leave to remain in the UK by deception.

His brother-in-law, Rashid Ahmed, 50, also of Meade Grove, was sentenced to nine months for the same offence. A fifth defendant, Aqib Latif, of Stoke Road, Slough, who paid the initial air fare for the victim, was jailed for 30 months after he was found guilty of conspiracy to traffick.

The woman, speaking through an interpreter, said after the hearing: “I was scared. I thought they can do anything they want with me. I want to put all this behind me now and start afresh.”

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