Ashfield man denies modern slavery charges over 'forced labour' at car wash
Car wash employees were “burned” by chemicals and “compelled to work long hours in bad conditions for little pay” during alleged exploitation after being transported from abroad
Defrim Paci, aged 42, of Sutton, his 37-year-old brother Jetmir Paci and Sitar Ali, aged 33, all stand accused of modern slavery crimes committed against Romanian nationals at Shiny, on Warwick Road in Carlisle, Cumbria, during 2016 and 2017.
Prosecutor Martin Reid told a jury at the city’s crown court as he opened the case: “This case is all about forced labour and arranging for people to come to the UK with a view to their being exploited.”
Defrim Paci, of Windmill Close, Sutton, “operated at the top of the conspiracy” which centred on the Carlisle car wash, alleged Mr Reid. Defrim’s brother, Jetmir, is said to have been involved in building work at the site, along with the transportation of staff.
The city business was managed by Ali, whose responsibilities included daily treatment of staff, their wages and payment for their transport to this country, plus their accommodation and rent collection.
“It is the prosecution case that the circumstances created by the defendants led to the freedom of these workers effectively being over-ridden,” Mr Reid alleged, “and that they were compelled to work long hours in bad conditions for little pay, their labour being exploited for the benefit of the defendants.”
Several workers, said the prosecutor, had identity cards taken away until travel cost debt was repaid; and were required to live in “very dirty” insect-infested multi-occupancy accommodation in Carlisle where rats were also seen.
Some described having no breaks, of having skin on their face and body “burned” by cleaning chemicals, and of receiving no protective clothing. One had said: “They treated me the same like they would do with a slave.”
The Paci brothers and Ali each deny two charges. One alleges conspiracy to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour at Shiny in Carlisle; the other alleges conspiracy to facilitate travel with a view to exploitation. Ali further denies possessing criminal cash.
Giving evidence, one man spoke of working up to seven days a week, starting at 8am and finishing at 7pm on all days except Sunday. There was time off for lunch and breaks when the car wash was not busy, but the man recalled: ”There were also times when I took a lunch break at five in the afternoon.”
His initial duties involved using chemicals to clean car wheels but wore his own clothes and “only given a hoody”. Asked whether hand protection was provided, he replied: “No. To protect the hands you needed gloves which each of us bought at Tescos. They were long gloves made of a black-coloured rubber material.”
He saw Jetmir Paci “many times” at the car wash, often welding, washing cars and “joking with the people who spoke English”. He recalled telling Jetmir, when asked how he was feeling, that he was “ok”.
On other occasions, however, the employee felt less good, explaining: “Because I was thinking I was working 11 hours per day and I wasn’t getting paid what a person working 11 hours a day should be paid.”
Another man said he worked nine days in a row before an immigration visit to the site, on May 10, 2017, when Romanian nationals were taken to a safe centre and suspects arrested.
For car wash tasks which comprised drying vehicles and some shampooing, he used a glove-type sponge, wore his own clothing and said he wasn’t provided with any garments by management.
Speaking about his training shoes, the man said: “I wasn’t able to stand on my feet any more. Because of the water. The water had eaten away at my feet, so to speak, because I had been working continuously for nine days.” He confirmed under cross-examination the footwear wasn’t waterproof.
Now aged 39, he recalled working from 7am or 8am until 6pm each day, and being “very tired” after his first shift. Asked about breaks, the man said he couldn’t speak English and had “gestured” at car wash manager Sitar Ali “to let him understand I am hungry”. He understood that when cars were washed and work was finished, he could “go on the alleged break”.
The man said he expected to be paid £30 a day for car wash work - which was due to increase over time - but received only £20 in his first pay packet after rent, transport costs and a deposit were deducted.
He saw one brother, “bald and with a beard”, wiping off cars, and another - with short dark hair - carrying out construction work and helping with vehicles when it was busy.
Defrim Paci and Jetmir Paci, of Minimum Terrace, Chesterfield, both told police when interviewed they had no roles in the operation of Shiny Carlisle.
Of Defrim Paci’s likely defence to the charges, Mr Reid said: “He accepts that he had an interest in the site at Warwick Road and that he was friends with Sitar Ali. But the Crown understands his case to be that he was not in charge of the business, nor was he involved in the management or day to day running of the business.”
And of Jetmir Paci, he said: “He says that he was friends with Sitar Ali and that while he carried out some building work for Mr Ali, he (Jetmir Paci) had never been responsible for the management of any car wash.”
Ali, of Adelaide Street, Carlisle, also denies any wrongdoing.
The trial, which is expected to last around six weeks, continues.