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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 15:21 GMT
Baltic girls forced into sex slavery
By Martha Buckley
BBC News

Five Albanian pimps have been convicted of sex trafficking offences after a trial at Southwark Crown Court. The inquiry was triggered by an investigation into the trade by the BBC's Six O'Clock News.

On 31 October 2004, a 16-year-old Lithuanian girl made what was probably the biggest mistake of her young life when she agreed to go on a trip to the UK with a group of new friends.

Prostitutes' calling cards on display in a phone box
Instead of the few days of fun she had been promised, she ended up being sold into prostitution in an ordeal that was to last for months.

A missing persons hunt sparked by her disappearance eventually led police to a series of west London brothels and a gang of Albanian people traffickers.

Jurors at Southwark Crown Court heard how the girl was "tricked" into leaving her home in a village near the town of Siauliai after being befriended by a young man.

He introduced her to a group of his "friends" in a nightclub, who invited her to join them on an exciting "sports" trip to London, all expenses paid.

After forging a permission letter from her parents, the men took her to Sheffield and handed her over to a gang who took her ID card - which clearly showed she was only 16.

Sold on

This group sold her on again to a group of Albanian pimps - the four Demarku brothers - Flamur, 33, Agron, 21, Bedari, 21, and Xhevair - and Izzet Fejzullahu, 32.

They told her she would have to work as a prostitute to cover the money they had paid for her and took her to a house in Pears Road, Hounslow - one of a string of brothels in the west London suburb.

I asked what I was really there for. They laughed and said: 'Prostitution'. I burst into tears. I said I don't want to do that and that I wanted to go home
Victim of gang, aged 19

Under the working name "Veronica from Italy", she was forced to sleep with as many as 10 men a day and earning her pimps around 800 a day - of which she received nothing, despite being promised a share.

The brothels operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week - with the "girls" allowed one day off a week.

Huge profits

According to one witness, the brothel in Pears Road alone took between 3,000 and 18,000 a day. The rent for the property was only 1,000 a month.

The gang were making huge profits and several of them drove around in new Mercedes cars.

Map of Europe

"Veronica" was allowed occasional phone calls home but was too frightened and embarrassed to tell her mother what was really going on.

The gang occasionally sent the family 100 or so, which the prosecution argued was intended to make them think their daughter was doing well abroad.

But the family remained worried and began searching for her, with the help of a Lithuanian missing persons TV show.

A team from the BBC's Six O'Clock News, who were investigating the sex trade, flew to Lithuania and interviewed her family.

Clues led to London

The BBC team alerted the Metropolitan Police after the money transfers gave a clue that she might be in London.

The Met was already aware of the Pears Road brothel and visited it on 16 December 2004.

She was not there but a notice advertising "new beautiful ladies at very good prices" gave a phone number, which led to another brothel in nearby Kingsley Road.

Police raided it the same day and rescued "Veronica", who was interviewed and then flown back to Lithuania to be reunited with her family.

But, suspecting she was not the only trafficked woman working against their will, they placed the gang under surveillance.

Series of raids

Over the next four months they found five houses in Hounslow, Isleworth and Feltham which were being used as brothels with at least five girls in each.

Undercover officers posed as clients to gather evidence against the pimps and to try to identify women in need of help.

In April 2005 they carried out a series of raids, seizing documents relating to Lithuanian women, evidence of money transfers, menus of sexual services and many thousands of pounds in cash - in one case 30,000 was found at a single address rented by the gang.

Prostitutes' calling cards on display in a phone box
The brothels were advertised through phone box cards

Among them was another young woman from Siauliai, a 19-year-old student who had been a virgin before she was sold to the gang.

Like "Veronica" she had been tricked into coming to the UK by a young man who befriended her before feeding her a "string of lies" about a nice house and a bar job.

She was met at Heathrow by Fejzullahu and Agron Demarku and driven to one of the brothels.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, she told the court:

"The girls were walking around in nightdresses and then a man walked in, a client, and I asked what I was really there for.

"They laughed and said: 'Prostitution'. I burst into tears. I said I don't want to do that and that I wanted to go home.

"But I was told I wouldn't leave before four months because I would have to work off a huge amount of money paid for my journey."

'Sold like cattle'

The gang gave the girls little or no money and kept them in the brothels mainly through fear, occasionally selling them on to other traffickers "like cattle", prosecutors said.

Michael Holland, prosecuting, said although the gang did not resort to physical violence, the girls were cowed into submission partly by threats and partly by their predicament - strangers in a foreign country, without their passports, unable to speak the language, understand their rights or even be sure where they were.

Fejzullahu and the Demarku brothers told the women who were trafficked from abroad they had to work to pay off their purchase price after which they would be allowed a share of their earnings.

By this time, the prosecution said, most would be "broken" - too ashamed and worn down by degradation to go home and resigned to a life of prostitution and being forced to work for their "owners".

Fejzullahu and three of the Demarku brothers were found guilty of trafficking and prostitution offences on Tuesday. They will be sentenced, along with Xhevair Demarku - who pleaded guilty before the trial, on Thursday.

Last month three sex traffickers who had run a similar prostitution ring in Sheffield, and had dealings with the Demarku brothers, were jailed. Tasim Axhami, from Kosovo, was found guilty of rape and jailed for 21 years. Emiljan Deqirat, from Albania, was given 16 years for sex trafficking offences, and Vilma Kizlaite, a Lithuanian, was sentenced to 11 years for false imprisonment.




SEE ALSO
Sex trade gang 'beggared belief'
18 Oct 05 |  South Yorkshire



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