The morning after the warrants, news of an international policing operation to
arrest trafficking suspects broke across Latvia.
The national media interest gave the officers a chance to talk about the team
effort over the months leading up to the warrants and the vast amount of work
that was yet to come. Then, that work began.
Deep within the corridors of the State Police headquarters in Riga, the team
started to leaf through the huge amounts of potential evidence they had
seized during the Latvian warrants.
What we did know when we went out for the enforcement in Latvia was that there were bank cards belonging to victims that
were being used in Latvia by Madara and Karens quite specifically.
During the enforcement, we were able to oversee searches at the address that the
Latvians were conducting and we recovered some absolutely great pieces
of evidence. When we looked through that we found bank cards for those victims so we
were able to link the CCTV that the Latvians helped us to secure with the
bank cards of the victims and the victims' names which were found in their
house on top of the cabinet in Latvia.
This is the bank card for one of the victims in the
case and recovered from other search addresses yesterday.
This bank card has been used in Latvia while the victim is back in the UK
and we've recovered CCTV in Latvia prior to this enforcement that covers the
use of that bank card.
We found a pay slip in the name of a victim in one of the vehicles that we recovered. That pay slip was for a victim
who had left a year prior. Some silliness from their part
really, in leaving trails of evidence that we can obtain. But I think really it
just goes to show their sheer arrogance and them thinking that they were never
going to get caught and we were never going to go out and get them.
But we certainly proved them wrong on that point.
The review of evidence meant that the team could easily link the bank statements, withdrawals, wire transfers
and purchases to the suspects and the victims, and clearly map out how
far the exploitation went. Watching on was National Crime Agency tactical
advisor Steff Williams, who gave the team useful pointers on what they would need for their prosecution case.
I look at what they have there and look how to bolster
that investigation and get the best out of the investigation.
We're not there to take over an investigation, we're not here to direct an
investigation. As is in the title, we are advising and we will give you what
we consider to be the best options. It's for you to choose which way you sort of follow your investigation.
We have a file submission towards the end of March that
we need to work to so the evidence that we've seized here will be key evidence that we'd like to include
in the next file submission...
This is probably one of the most dynamic JIT processes that I've gone through in that we've gone very
very quickly through the process from the first point of engaging with
Latvians, the Latvian authorities, through to the actual JIT process of coming
across here and making arrests then this has been quite a dynamic scenario.
Armed with folders full of crucial new evidence, the Derbyshire team flew back
to the UK to start the next phase of their investigation. And they weren't the
only ones flying into the UK from Latvia. With their extradition orders complete, two
of the main players in the international operation, who fled the UK before the
Derby enforcement, were finally brought back to face justice.
Far from the comforts of his Latvian home, Karens Pelcis was escorted through Stansted
Airport and straight to custody at Derby.
In another cell - Madara Stromane.
Both were remanded in prison custody charged with trafficking offences.
And with Magdalena Kleina and Ainars Pelcis already awaiting trial, the
investigation team knew that for the first time, they had all the main players
in the international human trafficking ring in custody. Their thoughts now turned to preparing for the trial.
We didn't start the trial until September the 17th 2018 so there were several months of activity, which was
reviewing paperwork, getting ready for trial, trial preparation and getting the case file ready.
So it's a long time of paperwork and processing, a lot of the excitement
what we would consider exciting elements of the job for us, lots of the travel to
and from Latvia had finished, and it was really into the period of grinding
through the paperwork and really critically analyzing the evidence and the
material that we'd gathered to make sense to be able to present a coherent case at court.
With a total of 11 defendants, nearly 30 victims,
and reams upon reams of detailed evidence carefully gathered by
the team, that case file became the biggest the officers had ever prepared.
The scale of it started to give Carl another sense of nervousness.
And with a case of this size there are really many unknowns leading up to the trial.
There were lots of people involved, there's lots of suspects it was a
conspiracy involving 11 people. We had got numerous victims, multiple victims to
coordinate that have all got different vulnerabilities that were all over the
place in the UK and spread all over Latvia, right across rural Latvia, so
there was lots of trepidation going into the trial. We knew had an exceptionally
strong evidential case but with so many people involved, so many suspects and so
many victims - and it's relatively new criminality - I was particularly worried
about going into the trial. I knew we had a good case but there were so many
variables and so many unknowns with this criminality that it's not something that
I or the team had experienced before.
The trial, scheduled to last three months, began at Nottingham Crown Court. The courtroom heard
first-hand from several victims how they had been recruited, coerced, lied to and exploited by the group over several years.
I remember one victim telling me that
whilst he was under the control of the offenders, he was just a body with no soul.
He felt lifeless. Yes, he could walk the streets but he wasn't actually free.
He couldn't just buy some food or visit a new place. The offenders didn't need
chains and locks to control him as they made him feel like he was surrounded by
an invisible fence - one which he couldn't just climb over. He saw no way out.
The criminal group initially denied the charges. But faced with overwhelming
evidence meticulously gathered by officers in the UK and in Latvia
the dominoes of the Pelcis crime operation fell once again.
Hello I'm Tom Bokros, crime reporter for the Derby Telegraph. Today nine people
have pleaded guilty to crimes linked to human trafficking and exploitation. The
nine were originally arrested over two series of raids this year and last year.
The strength of the case that we put forward couldn't be answered, so they had to fall
and ultimately they did. But they were waiting for the one potential weakness
in our case, which were victims. Now these people were some of the most vulnerable people in
society and they have issues and still some of them have issues now. But with
that support that we were able to give them we were able to bring them to trial
and give them their voice and what I would say is for any victims of modern
slavery who are out there - the police are there, we will support you, we'll help you
through the process, and we'll help you bring offenders to justice.