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GLA outraged over weak sentence for illegal gangmaster

An illegal gangmaster has escaped jail, despite being found to have kept Romanian workers in an unheated outbuilding in Northern Ireland and forced them to scavenge for food from supermarket bins.

Gheorghe Ionas pleaded guilty to a charge of acting as a gangmaster without a licence in the Craigavon Magistrates Court yesterday [7 October] and was ordered to pay a fine of £500, court costs of £46 and an offender’s levy of £15.

Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) chief executive Paul Broadbent said he was “shocked and appalled” at the sentence and would seek an appeal.

“I simply fail to see how this punishment fits the crime and is in anyway a deterrent for someone who preyed on vulnerable men,” he said.

According to a statement from the GLA,  a raid on Ionas’ Lurgan home was conducted by the GLA and police on 2 October last year.

Three Romanian men were discovered sleeping in a building made of bare breeze blocks with limited electricity and no heating. Officers were told up to five had been living there.

A subsequent inspection by a Craigavon Borough Council environmental health officer resulted in the building being declared unfit for human habitation.

Broadbent said he would be writing to the public prosecutor for Northern Ireland to seek leave to appeal the “derisory sentence” and to “express my utter dismay that slavery – for that is what this was – is seemingly not recognised in the court where this defendant appeared”.

“At a time when the proposed Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill in Northern Ireland stipulates a minimum sentence of two years for ‘trafficking’ offences, and the very offence that was admitted under the Gangmasters Licensing Act carries a maximum of 10 years, this case must surely be reconsidered.”

The men were employed as full-time apple pickers in County Armagh orchards and were paid £100 a week, below the National Minimum Wage.

Though Ionas took money from the men for food, transport and accommodation, they were forced to take out-of-date stock from supermarket bins. - See more at:
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