Fugitive slave master back behind bars after Poland arrest
A fugitive slave master who went on the run after being found guilty of marshalling a human trafficking ring is back behind bars after West Midlands Police worked with the National Crime Agency and Polish authorities to track him down.
Ignacy Brzezinski was a lead member of a Polish gang convicted earlier this month of trafficking up to 400 people from their homeland, forcing them to work on farms and recycling centres for a pittance and housing them in squalor.
The eight-strong group were collectively jailed for more than 55 years in what the trial judge described as “the largest conspiracy of its type ever known”.
Read more: The full story behind the people trafficking gang
Brzezinski – who drove around the West Midlands in a Bentley while his victims worked for as little as 50p an hour – skipped court bail on the eve of sentencing and slipped back onto the Continent.
A European Arrest Warrant was issued on 17 July and on 24 July – after West Midlands Police received intelligence suggesting the 52-year-old was back in Poland – he was detained by Polish police in a flat in the city of Włocławek.
He’s now back in custody awaiting extradition back to the UK… and the start of an 11-year jail sentence.
West Midlands Police Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale, who ran the landmark investigation into the gang, said: “The case attracted international media coverage – which gave us fresh leads as to Brzezinski’s whereabouts.
“The Central Investigation Bureau of the Polish Police found him lying low in an apartment; our understanding is that he didn’t try to run, he surrendered quietly and instead seemed rather surprised he’d been traced to a flat that didn’t belong to him.
“Brzezinski believed he could escape justice for exploitation on an industrial scale, showing nothing but contempt for his victims and the court.
“It’s really satisfying he has been arrested so quickly, and we are working with the Polish authorities to extradite him as soon as possible, so that his victims will know he is serving his sentence along with his co-conspirators.”
The group of five men and three women lured vulnerable people from Poland – including the homeless, ex-prisoners and alcoholics – with the promise of employment, money and accommodation.
But in reality they were made to work long hours on farms, rubbish recycling centres and turkey gutting factories and given as little as £20 per week by the traffickers who pocketed the bulk of their salaries.
They were housed in vermin-infested properties dotted across West Bromwich, Sandwell, Smethwick and Walsall – often crammed four to a room – fed out-of-date food and forced to scavenge for dumped mattresses to sleep on.
At some properties there were no working toilets, heating, furniture or hot water and some victims told how they were forced to wash in canal water.
Bank accounts were opened in victims’ names, using bogus addresses, but were controlled by the gang-masters who were handing over anything from £100 to just £20 per week to their illegal workforce.
It meant in some cases the ‘slaves’ – ranging in age from 17 to a man in his 60s – were receiving just 50 pence per hour.
The cruel group also topped up their criminal takings by claiming benefits in the victims’ names without their knowledge.
It’s estimated the abusers made in excess of £2million between June 2012 and October 2017 on the back of their victims’ suffering and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, buying designer clothes and driving around in a Bentley and other high-end cars.
Brzezinski – who was living in Beechwood Road, West Bromwich, but originally from Chelmno-Pomorskie in Poland – was a prominent member of the crime group.
He seized control of victims’ bank accounts, plundering their wages, and when police raided his home they found a stash of documents in victims’ names, their bank cards and a significant quantity of cash.
The trial judge described their trafficking conspiracy as the “most ambitious, extensive and prolific” modern day slavery network ever exposed in the UK – and praised the “meticulous” West Midlands Police investigation that saw them convicted.
Dave Hucker, of NCA International, said: “We are delighted to have played a role in ensuring Ignacy Brzezinski will face justice for the horrendous crimes he has committed. Identifying Brzezinski’s location and his subsequent arrest were possible because of our excellent relationship and co-operation with the Central Investigation Bureau of the Polish Police.
“The National Crime Agency’s international liaison officers are placed in strategic global locations to lend their expertise and help disrupt serious and organised crime.”