Human traffickers advertised vulnerable victims in Lancashire as sex workers

Crown Court
Crown Court
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Three men from Preston have admitted a human trafficking conspiracy in which criminals charged £120 an hour for the sexual services of vulnerable women.

They were among several people arrested in dawn raids across Lancashire, Gateshead and Evesham earlier this year as part of Operation Ludlow - a major probe into an organised crime group in the county.

Romanian women were driven to clients at private addresses and hotels across Lancashire, after adverts were placed on webiste Viva Street advertising their services, Preston Crown Court heard.

Judge Robert Altham said:"It's very troubling that vast profits are being made by sites such as Viva Street by the advertising of prostitution and, in this case as it turns out, women being exploited."

It is understood the gang made vast profits by exploiting women trafficked into the UK from Romania.

Prosecuting, Katherine Pierpoint said the women were driven to “out calls” at hotels of private addresses by appointed drivers to provide sexual services.

Ringleader Razvan Florinel Mitru, 30, of Arkwright Road, Deepdale; Traian Gavrila, 30, of Victoria Place, Walton-le-Dale; and Marius Dide, 27, of Arkwright Road, Preston, admit conspiring to arrange the travel of another for the purpose of exploitation.

Their co-defendants, Alexander Peter Baltoiu, 24, from Evesham; Alexandru Pitigoi, 25, from Evesham; Ionut Cosmin Dogaru, 28, from Blackburn; and Marius Ciprian Trasca, 29, from Gateshead, admit the same charge, as do Marian Diaconu, 25, from Slough and Catalin Iordache, 28, from Romania, who worked as ‘drivers’ with Dide. Charges were dropped against a Blackpool woman and Claudiu-Nicusor Valescu, 31, from Blackburn, was cleared after a trial.

The court heard the men controlled different aspects of the women’s lives, including their entry into the country, their accommodation, their advertising arrangements, the financial side of their work and their transport to and from out calls to customers.

Preston Crown Court heard in 2016, police suspected a brothel was being run on Barnabas Street, Blackburn.

They found Mitru and Baltoiu present with two women. The property was kept under watch and a probe revealed connections between a number of Romanian women who were being advertising on Viva Street for out calls - where the female goes to the customer rather than going to a brothel. Police identified 11 women and observations using CCTV, ANPR, cell site material, financial information, flight booking information and witness accounts showed the men were involved in controlling these women’s activities.

A snapshot into the scale of the conspiracy showed 22 cars linked to the gang were spotted by ANPR cameras 2,624 times between July 2016 and April 2017.

The sentencing is expected to conclude on Friday.