GLA chief ‘bitterly disappointed’ over gangmaster ruling

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

The penalty did not fit the crime, said Broadbent
The penalty did not fit the crime, said Broadbent

Related tags Minimum wage Crime

The head of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has branded the punishment of a gangmaster who illegally supplied up to 70 Filipino workers to dairy farmers “bitterly disappointing”.

Passing sentence, judge Ambrose of Swindon Crown Court ordered Christopher James Blakeney of Conock, Devizes to pay a total of £57,801 and gave him suspended prison sentences.

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 only for a fraction of that figure.”

Mark Heath, head of change and business development at the GLA and senior investigating officer on the case, told FoodManufacture.co.uk he had never seen anything like it. “It was certainly the biggest case the GLA has investigated in relation to the amount of financial gain by an individual at the expense of workers.

“They were paid £300–£500 per month less than the minimum agricultural wage”​ The lack of a precedent for the case had made it difficult for the judge to make a ruling, he said.

£15,000 annually to compensate workers

Blakeney was handed concurrent sentences of 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years for each of four counts of acting illegally as an unlicensed gangmaster. He was also ordered to pay £15,000 annually for the next three years to compensate workers the judge said he exploited.

However, although the court heard Blakeney had made a profit of £700,000 from his criminal ventures, and workers were owed more than £600,000 in compensation and claims, only £12,801 could be found in his bank accounts.

A confiscation order has been issued for that money under the Proceeds of Crime Act and Blakeney must repay the amount over the next six months or face nine months’ imprisonment.

Heath welcomed the fact that one outcome of the case was that the workers who had been exploited had been re-employed at rates equal to or greater than the minimum agricultural wage.

“At least by the judgment some money will be recovered to the benefit of the workers,”​ he added.

Ignored advice and warnings

Blakeney ignored advice and warnings from the GLA and supplied 60–70 workers illegally over a period of three and a half years.

“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,”​ said judge Ambrose, summing up.

“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 judgment, wilfully wrong.”

The judge said the offences were so serious that only a custodial sentence would apply. However, he was constrained by his belief that Blakeney would only be able to compensate workers if he kept working.

Related topics Legal Dairy

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