Tyre Sector Slavery

At the bottom end of the recycling sector ladder lies a murky elephant in the room that few will discuss openly. Gary Walker at the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency did speak openly about organised crime operating in the tyre collection sector. There have been veiled references to crime in England from the EA, but it would be easy to presume that they were talking simply of exemption contraventions. However, it runs deeper, and this case may make us all think twice about using low cost car washes staffed by low paid staff, or buying used tyres from back street dealers.

Members of a Slovakian family have been convicted of trafficking people into the United Kingdom and forcing them to work for little or no pay.

Five members of the Newcastle-based Rafael family were found guilty of the systematic exploitation of homeless, unemployed and vulnerable people from Eastern Europe following a trial at Teesside Crown Court. Two further family members pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

The defendants, spanning three generations, were prosecuted for offences against eight victims who they trafficked into the UK and forced into work.  

In order to help secure the convictions the CPS made arrangements for the vulnerable victims to give evidence against the Rafaels. This included facilitating travel back to the UK and special measures such as video links and intermediaries.

The court heard how between 2010 and 2017 members of the Rafael family or their associates would approach people in towns in Slovakia and the Czech Republic with the promise of food, work and accommodation in the United Kingdom.

Victims would be transported to Newcastle and taken to houses where they were kept in cellars or in crowded rooms. They were then put to work while the family arranged bank accounts and National Insurance numbers for them so that loans could be taken out in their names.  

Their identification documents and bank cards were confiscated so the family could control their movements and wages.

The family forced their victims to work in car washes, or in jobs packing food, cleaning concrete from old bricks, and pulling springs from old mattresses for scrap metal. Often the work was heavy manual labour over long shifts.

The victims received a tiny fraction of their income, with the majority kept by the Rafael family. They were given small amounts of food and told they needed to pay back the money they owed for transport and housing.

Two victims who arrived in Newcastle in March 2017 were told not to leave the house to avoid the police as they would be arrested if they were seen. Others were physically threatened when they attempted to leave.

A father and son were given one meal and were told it would need to last them a whole week. Another victim was sent back to Slovakia after a year of forced labour with no money or possessions other than his clothes. Another was paid £10 a day for 12-hour shifts unloading tyres.

The offending came to light when one man escaped a property in Newcastle and alerted police.

 (Source: Criminal prosecution Service)

About the author

Editor of Tyre and Rubber Recycling since its launch; Ewan Scott has been writing about tyres and tyre recycling for almost 20 years.

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