Five members of a prostitution racket, which flew more than 50 young women into the UK from Hungary and set them up in airport hotels, student accommodation and suburban homes, have been convicted of conspiring to traffic people into the UK for sexual exploitation.
Four Hungarian nationals, Mate Puskas, Zoltan Mohacsi, Istvan Toth and Peter Toth, along with Puskas’s British former girlfriend, Victoria Brown, were found guilty on Tuesday following a trial at Hove crown court. Istvan and Peter Toth were convicted in their absence.
The charges relate to more than 60 incidents over a period of almost two years. The women were brought from Hungary into the UK after their “profiles” had been uploaded on to a website advertising sexual services for sale.
Customers would call mobile phones used by the gang who then arranged for them to meet young women at a hotel or in houses run by the Hungarians as brothels.
The Crown Prosecution Service, which brought the case, is preparing what it describes as an “action plan” to improve the way the criminal justice system investigates and deals with human trafficking offences. The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has recently held meetings with other law enforcement agencies.
The Hungarian prostitution gang operated out of an internet cafe in Croydon. “None of us can imagine how desperate the victims were in this case,” said Portia Ragnauth, acting chief crown prosecutor in the south-east. “In many instances, they came to the UK to try to escape financial difficulties at home. Payments for their flights were often made by one of the five individuals convicted. Once in the UK these “debts” were used as a hold over the women who were forced to work for up to 12 hours a day.
“When the women told the group they did not want to work as prostitutes, threats would be made against them and their families back in Hungary. Threats were also made to expose the work they had been doing in the UK in their home country.”
Ragneuth paid tribute to the bravery of the victims who gave evidence in the case. One woman recounted her ordeals from behind a screen in the crown court; two others who spoke via a live video-feed from Hungary.
The prosecutor added: “We know how incredibly difficult it was for them, especially as we know that the reach of this criminal group extends back to Hungary. It has not been easy for them, but we hope that today’s verdict brings them justice and allows them to now move on with their lives.”
The investigation was co-ordinated with police and judicial authorities in Hungary. Some of the women were said to have stayed in Sussex University student accommodation. Others were put up in houses in Eastbourne, Margate and Folkestone. Several hotels near Gatwick were also used; staff grew suspicious after they heard “muffled bangings” and found bins overflowing with toilet paper and used condoms.
All five defendants, who denied the charges, were convicted of conspiracy to traffic women into the UK for sexual exploitation contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.