A couple have been jailed for a total of 25 years after trafficking at least 29 vulnerable people to the UK and forcing them to work for free at a car wash and live in a property described as the “gate to hell”.
Maros Tancos, and Joanna Gomulska, both 46, kept the victims as “prisoners” in squalor in the house in Bristol and subjected them to beatings and death threats, a court heard.
Victims were forced to work unpaid at Tancos’s car wash business and then do paid jobs at night including catching chickens, packing milk and sorting parcels, with the couple spending their wages on secondhand cars and gambling.
One was forced to work at the car wash with a broken arm, while another fled after falling pregnant and gave birth to a baby who was malnourished.
Some of the trafficked people had been raised in orphanages in Slovakia and were promised a better life by the couple.
Tancos was jailed for 16 years and Gomulska was given a nine-year prison sentence at Bristol crown court on Wednesday, after being convicted of modern slavery offenses in April.
Mark Morrison, senior investigating officer at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said the living conditions included dirty mattresses on the floor and “disgusting, filthy carpets, blankets and bedding”.
He told Sky News: “There are multiple accounts of violence against them with beatings. The mental anguish that these men and women have gone through is absolutely abhorrent.”
Morrison added that Tancos had links to children’s homes in his home country of Slovakia and had a “ready supply” of vulnerable victims.
The trafficked people between 2010 and 2017 were aged from their late teens to their 30s and were predominantly men from Slovakia and Hungary who were unable to speak English.
Victims were falsely told they would get to keep half of their wages every month while the rest would go towards food and living costs.
During the three-month trial, the court heard that Tancos and Gomulska seized victims’ ID documents, phones and bank cards, and opened their bank accounts with them in addition to applying for loans and credit cards in their names.
The NCA said almost £300,000 was transferred from the victims’ accounts.
Tancos also failed to pay his victims £923,835 at the car wash, the amount they would have earned had they received minimum wage over the eight-year period of the offending, the agency added.
The NCA was first alerted by authorities in Slovakia in 2017 that one of its citizens had “escaped from servitude” from an address in Bristol.
It prompted an investigation and Tancos and Gomulska were arrested in July that year.
A total of 42 victims were interviewed by specialist officers and 29 gave evidence of the abuse they suffered in court.
Senior prosecutor specialist, Ruona Iguyovwe, said: “This is a truly harrowing case of exploitation spanning nearly a decade, where people were trafficked and subjected to a life of misery to line the pockets of two ruthless individuals.
“Referring to the house as a ‘gate to hell’, one victim’s account shows how they felt trapped, unable to seek help without identity documents, locked in the house and threatened.”