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Paul Broadbent, Gangmaster Licencing Authority (GLA) chief executive said the sentence imposed on a Wiltshire-based recruitment consultant, who systematically exploited around 60 Filipino workers and illegally supplied them to dairy farms across the UK, does not fit the crime.
Christopher James Blakeney, of Conock, Devizes, was handed 12-months imprisonment suspended for two years for each of four counts of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster. The sentences are to run concurrently.
At an earlier hearing at Swindon Crown Court, the 50-year-old had admitted eight similar charges; four in his own name and four on behalf of his Calne-based company, Marden Management Ltd. No separate penalties were imposed against the company, as it has now ceased trading.
Blakeney was also ordered by the court to pay a total of £45,000 over the next three years in direct compensation to the workers he supplied illegally. In addition, a confiscation order was issued for £12,801 under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which Blakeney was ordered to pay within six months or serve nine months in prison.
Presiding Judge Ambrose told the court that though Blakeney was fully aware of his requirement to hold a licence to operate his business he had thought – “I don’t like this law so I won’t comply with it‟.
Blakeney ignored advice and warnings from the GLA and supplied between 60 and 70 workers illegally over a period of more than three-and-a-half years. He deducted fees from all salaries so workers were paid below the National Minimum Wage and misled some of the farmers he supplied workers to, causing them to commit criminal offences themselves.
In summing up, the judge told the defendant: “You had persuaded yourself that you fell within the exclusion regulations, when it should have been obvious to you from the start that you did not. You withheld the workers’ first two months half-salary. Next you deducted administration fees, then you deducted money for accommodation - about £160 per month - when in fact the agreement with the farms was that the accommodation was free of charge.”
“You knew this but still deducted it from the workers’ wages. Next you paid the workers under the minimum wage ... those who complained were given short shrift. You were wrong and in my judgement, wilfully wrong!”
Judge Ambrose added that while the offences were so serious that only a custodial sentence would apply, any compensation would only be paid to the workers involved if Blakeney himself continued to work.
It was agreed in court that a net profit of more than £700,000 had been earned from his criminal activity but only £12,801 could be found in his bank accounts. Blakeney failed to provide statements from a bank account in Saudi Arabia as requested by the court.
Blakeney is employed overseas in Jordan and is earning £5,000 a month. His defence counsel said that he was unlikely to be able to work in the UK again.
The court order means he must now pay £15,000 per year, the equivalent to three months’ salary, for the next three years to compensate the dairy workers. He must also surrender a car he bought for his teenage son, as it was bought from the proceeds of his crimes and is considered a tainted gift.
GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent said: “In this case I honestly do not believe the punishment fits the crime. By his own admission Blakeney banked more than £700,000 from this determined, protracted criminal venture so I am bitterly disappointed that the proceeds of crime award made against him is for only a fraction of that figure.”
“The only comfort I take is the fact the man who made deductions from these vulnerable workers’ wage packets will now have 25% of his own money taken over the next three years to compensate those he exploited. He deliberately broke the law in order to profit from the exploitation of workers and his actions allowed him to undercut others, gaining an unfair advantage over businesses operating legitimately in a highly competitive industry,” he continued.
Mr Broadbent commented: “I’m pleased that he has removed the need for the GLA to make the decision that he is no longer fit to work as a gangmaster in the UK and is employed overseas.”
Mr Broadbent added that the prosecution showed that regardless of the complexity or period of time for which the exploitation of workers has gone on for, the GLA was committed to prosecuting committed criminals, like Blakeney, who seek to profit from vulnerable people.