Gang jailed for trafficking Latvian woman for sham marriage
A gang who trafficked a Latvian woman to the UK as a bride for a sham marriage before she was kept prisoner for nearly 14 months have been jailed.
The 36-year-old victim was promised a job in the UK but instead had her passport removed on arrival and was later married to illegal overstayer Mohammed Akmal, 32, in a bogus Islamic ceremony.
Sentencing the defendants at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Patrick Field told them they had used the woman "essentially as a commodity".
The victim, who has probable learning disabilities and could not speak English, was plucked from her "simple life" of fruit-picking in her home village because she would be "compliant, easily led and easily exploited", added the judge.
She flew into Luton Airport from Riga in July 2013 with the promise of a job working with children of Latvian families in the UK, and was collected by Hanan Butt.
Instead she stayed three days at the Slough home of Butt, 27, and his wife, Jekaterina Ostrovska, 24 - who the Home Office say are sham marriage partners themselves - before she was driven to an address in Birmingham for the fake ceremony.
Akmal and the victim stayed for several months before she was moved to two addresses in Longsight, Manchester.
In one of the homes she stayed in a tiny attic bedroom while Pakistani national Akmal and the rest of his family lived in the main house, while the second house had metal grates over the windows as she was not allowed out alone.
Her ordeal ended after she managed to tear off a partial address from a piece of mail and rang her mother who then informed Interpol.
A number of notes written by the complainant were recovered in the resulting searches by Greater Manchester Police.
One read: "I will not forgive them for what they have done to me. If I will not return home, then blame only them and never forgive them."
Judge Field said the victim had spoken of suffering "psychological harm" from the exploitation.
Butt, of Stoke Road, Slough, was jailed for two years and eight months after he pleaded guilty to human trafficking, while Ostrovska, also of Stoke Road, was imprisoned for two and a half years after she admitted conspiracy to traffick for exploitation.
Akmal, of Meade Grove, Longsight, who is subject to a deportation notice, was jailed for 20 months after he was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to seek leave to remain in the UK by deception.
His brother-in-law, Rashid Ahmed, 50, also of Meade Grove, was sentenced to nine months for the same offence after he acted as a witness to the fake marriage.
A fifth defendant, Aqib Latif, of Stoke Road, Slough, who paid the initial air fare for the victim, was jailed for 30 months after he was found guilty of conspiracy to traffick for exploitation.
Following sentencing, Detective Sergeant John Robb said: "This poor woman has endured a horrific ordeal at the hands of these men and women who treated her as though she was a commodity to be passed around for their own gain.
"She was there to serve a purpose to them and that purpose was nothing more than providing an opportunity for Mohammed Akmal to avoid deportation and stay in this country indefinitely.
"Who knows how long they would have kept her as a prisoner had she not managed to get information of her whereabouts to her mother.
"In doing so, the victim showed tremendous courage which she has continued to show throughout the investigation and the subsequent judicial process."
He added: "What this investigation has also taught is that it does not take a massively organised criminal gang to orchestrate the trafficking and false imprisonment of a human being.
"This gang were nothing more than an inexperienced bunch of family members and acquaintances and they managed to trick a woman into coming to the UK and imprisoning her for more than a year."