Three people including a woman from Bath have been sentenced following the first successful prosecution in the UK for exploitation and enforced child labour under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Officers from Avon and Somerset Police and Staffordshire Police unravelled the human trafficking operation which saw young Vietnamese teenagers forced to work without wages in nail bars across the country.
Thu Huong Nguyen – known as Jenny – aged 48, of Southdown Road in Bath, was found guilty of conspiring to arrange or facilitate the movement of people for labour exploitation and conspiring to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour following a trial.
She was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Stafford Crown Court today, along with two other people from Burton-on-Trent.
In court, the judge called the defendants “devious and manipulative” and said they treated the victims as commodities and exploited them for “pure economic greed”.
The trafficking investigation involved five police forces and the National Crime Agency and began after officers took part in a multi-agency welfare visit to Nail Deluxe in Westgate Street in Bath, in February 2016 – a premises run by Jenny Nguyen.
A search of Jenny’s home in Southdown Road resulted in £60,000 in cash being found concealed inside a stuffed toy.
DI Charlotte Tucker, who led the operation for Avon and Somerset Police and was one of the officers to attend the Bath nail bar, said: “Today marks the conclusion of a desperately sad case in which young vulnerable girls were forced to work in nail bars across the country as part of a sophisticated money-making operation.
“Two teenage victims were safeguarded following the warrant carried out on Nail Deluxe in Bath and a further two were located at a nail bar in Burton-on-Trent.
“These victims have had traumatic childhoods and were treated by traffickers as commodities – forced to live and work in unsuitable conditions, with little or no pay, and enduring both physical and verbal abuse.
“We’re pleased with the custodial sentences given out today and hope this case acts as a stark reminder of how modern slavery victims are working and living in plain sight.
“As a community we need to look out for the warning signs and do our part to stop this archaic practice once and for all.”
DI Clair Langley, of Staffordshire Police, said: “These victims were being exploited and the speed with which they were moved around the country indicates the level of organisation here.
“This is the first successful prosecution for child labour exploitation and child trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act and we hope it sends out a clear message – we won’t tolerate this activity and we will bring offenders before the courts.”
She added that the investigation had been extremely challenging and was thought to be the first child labour exploitation case and first Vietnamese nail bar trafficking/slavery case in the UK.
“Recognition must be given to the police and prosecution teams involved across the UK regions to reach this successful outcome,” she added.
If you have suspicions about modern slavery happening near you, call 101 or 999 in an emergency.
The independent charity Unseen has also launched a UK Modern Slavery Helpline. If you’re concerned for someone or are experiencing slavery, call 08000 121 700 for confidential advice, or visit www.modernslaveryhelpline.org.