A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.
A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.
The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.
The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.
“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and then put them to work on the streets.”
In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.
The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.
But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.
The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.
In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”
She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.The Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.
The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been “offered work” as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.
Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share the takings. But when they had arrived in the UK they found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.
They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover … I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”
Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”
DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”
Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”