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R. v. Lorenc Roci and Vullnet Ismailaj

[2005] EWCA Crim 3404

Court of Appeal

CA (Crim Div)

(Lord Justice Rose ( Vice President, Court of Appeal, Criminal Division), Mr

Justice Simon and Mrs Justice Dobbs):

November 16, 2005

Deterrence; Sentence length; Trafficking for sexual exploitation

Trafficking into the United Kingdom for the purpose of sexual exploitation--appellant arranging immigration of adult women willing to act as prostitutes--length of sentence

A sentence of 11 years' imprisonment for trafficking into the United Kingdom for the purposes of sexual exploitation, where a man arranged for the immigration of a number of adult women who were willing to act as prostitutes, reduced to nine years.

The second appellant pleaded guilty to conspiring to arrange or facilitate the arrival in the United Kingdom of a person for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The first appellant pleaded guilty to conspiring to control prostitution for gain. A number of adult women arrived in the United Kingdom from Lithuania. They were met on their arrival by the second appellant who had apparently paid their fares. They were taken to brothels in Birmingham and in London where they were required to work and to pay the bulk of their earnings to the second appellant. Sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment (the second appellant) and four years' imprisonment (the first appellant). Both appellants were recommended for deportation.

Held: the sentencing judge took account of their pleas of guilty, although they were entered on a rearraignment as the jury were about to be sworn. The judge accepted that the women had come to the United Kingdom for the purposes of prostitution and had not been corrupted in any way. They had been coerced by reason of the conditions in which they were required to work. There had been a high degree of planning and organisation and there was some evidence of threats and restriction of the women's liberties and the confiscation of their passports. It was noted, in contrast to the case of Maka [2006] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 14 (p.101), that the victims of the offences were adult prostitutes and came to the country for the purpose of carrying on trade as prostitutes. The coercion to which they were subjected was extremely minor compared with the coercion and corruption to which the victim in Maka was subjected. Looking at the circumstances of the case, although the Court considered that the sentencing judge was entirely right to impose a deterrent sentence, the sentences were excessive. The sentence on the first appellant would be reduced to three years and the sentence on the second appellant would be reduced from 11 years to nine years' imprisonment.

Representation

T. Wood for the appellant Roci.

S. Molyneux the appellant Ismailaj.

P. O'Neill for the Crown.

JUDGMENT

The Vice President:

1 On February 21, 2005 at Southwark Crown Court, these appellants (as they are now are with the leave of the Court) pleaded guilty at a late stage on rearraignment and, on February 22, they were sentenced by H.H. Judge Robbins, in the case of Roci, to four years' imprisonment on count 2, for conspiracy to control prostitution for gain. Count 1, which was conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the arrival into the United Kingdom of a person for the purposes of sexual exploitation was left on the file in the usual terms. Ismailaj was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment, on count 1, conspiracy to arrange to or facilitate the arrival in the United Kingdom of a person for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Count 2, conspiracy to control prostitution for gain and a separate indictment, alleging possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of ammunition without a certificate were left on the file in the usual terms.

2 Both the appellants were also recommended for deportation. The Registrar had referred their applications for leave to appeal to the Court.

3 A co-accused called Qata, who pleaded guilty to count 2, of controlling prostitution for gain, was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and also recommended for deportation. Another co-accused was acquitted.

4 The case related to the trafficking in prostitutes from Lithuania to the United Kingdom and the control of their activities here by the two appellants and Qata, following their arrival. Ismailaj was much the most significantly involved. Qata was the least involved and indeed his activities were confined to controlling one prostitute in September 2004.

5 During their investigation the police obtained statements from a number of Lithuanian women who had come to this country expressly for the purpose of working as prostitutes. None of them, however, expected to work in the manner they were subsequently required to.

6 There were four adult women who described having arrived between November 2003 and September 2004, either at Heathrow Airport or at the Victoria Coach Station, from Lithuania. They described being met on arrival at whichever of those destinations by Ismailaj who, in several cases, had apparently paid their travel fares and to whom they paid the bulk of their earnings from working, many hours a day, five or six days a week. They were required, which they did not wish to, to service drunken clients and in some cases they were required, which they did not wish to, to work when they were menstruating. Both these appellants drove them to brothels in Birmingham and in London.

7 One of the women described how she had responded to Qata in the presence of Ismailaj when he had handed his telephone to her to speak to a woman in Lithuania. She threw the telephone down and then dialled the emergency services on her own telephone, and explained in broken English her predicament. A man who was passing by at the time was sufficiently concerned to take the telephone from her and speak to the police operator. Thereupon officers were dispatched and came to the scene. She made a statement to the Vice Squad which led to a much larger investigation.

8 She told the police that her two cousins, who were sisters, had been due to come to this country as prostitutes and, in consequence, a surveillance operation was mounted. They were seen to arrive at Victoria coach station, where Ismailaj met them on September 29. During the course of their journey they had received a telephone call telling them that their cousin, the one who had gone to the police, had run away. But it was too late by then for them to stop their journey. When they met Ismailaj, they asked him what had happened to their cousin. He said she was working elsewhere. He took them to a flat where two other prostitutes and an Albanian man were waiting for them. Roci arrived a short while later.

9 The following day, at about 17.00, Ismailaj came, and Roci brought food. A bald man turned up who said he was going to be their boss and that she had been sold to him or was about to be sold to him by Ismailaj. She said she was not prepared to work apart from her sister. An argument ensued. The sisters packed their bags.

10 The surveillance operation continued. On October 6, 7 and 10, Ismailaj, and on October 6, Roci, were seen driving different women to brothels in various places. Ismailaj was arrested on October 11 and had in his wallet three £20 notes which police officers were able to identify as having been handed over by them in connection with prostitution the previous day. In his home was found £4,315 in cash, banking documents revealing large deposits of cash and transfers to Lithuania and Albania and a number of documents supporting false identities for him. There was also correspondence indicating that the two appellants had shared a flat together and with Qata. There were bogus employment references and numerous work records for various prostitutes, which showed that the earnings had been split 25 per cent for the girl and 75 per cent for the pimp.

11 When Roci was arrested on October 29, he had just under £400 in cash in his possession. When his home was searched, banking documentation revealing the movement of large amounts of cash including transfers to Albania and Lithuania were recovered, together with work rotas for the prostitutes.

12 When he was interviewed Ismailaj said that his girlfriend supported him from her work as a prostitute and she was his only source of income. He denied having arranged for any women to come to this country to work as prostitutes. He did, however, admit that he knew some of the women whom he drove round were prostitutes, but he claimed they did not work for him.

13 When Roci was interviewed he made a prepared statement in which he said he had never knowingly taken prostitutes to work but had given lifts to women that he did not know. He claimed to have saved a lot by working and sent money back to Albania and transferred some money on behalf of a Lithuanian friend.

14 In passing sentence, the judge took account of the pleas of guilty, albeit entered on the very day of their trial, at a time when the jury were about to be sworn. Both were illegal immigrants and would be recommended for deportation. He referred to the Consultation Document issued by the Sentencing Advisory Panel on the exploitation of prostitution. He said that both had made substantial financial gains: in the case of Ismailaj, it amounted to a benefit of approximately £160,000; in the case of Roci to about £87,000 and in the case of Qata to about £46,000. The total between the three was therefore some £ 300,000.

15 The judge accepted that the women had come to this country for the purposes of prostitution, and in consequence had not been in any way corrupted. But they had, by reason of the conditions in which they were required to work, been coerced. The judge referred to the high degree of planning and organisation involved in trafficking in people and he referred to some evidence of threats and inhuman treatment and restriction of the women's liberties and confiscation of their passports. The judge referred to the case of R. v Plakici [2005] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 19, 83, which was not before the Sentencing Advisory Panel when they issued their consultation paper. The judge said, rightly, that the courts had to send a clear message out that those who trafficked in girls for prostitution would receive severe deterrent sentences. Ismailaj was deeply involved and Roci was his eager lieutenant.

16 Roci was born in October 1982 and so is 23; Ismailaj was born in August 1977, and so is 28. They are both Albanian nationals apparently of previous good character.

17 The grounds of appeal submit that the judge adopted too high a starting point in relation to Ismailaj, or failed to give him sufficient credit for his plea, and took insufficient account of the absence of aggravating features, which are sometimes to be found in cases of this kind. So far as Roci is concerned it is said that the judge ought to have paid more regard to the comparatively minor role played by him in relation to count 2. In consequence, it is said, making him a long-term prisoner was excessive.

18 It is to be noted in this case, as in contrast to the case of R. v Maka[2006] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 14,101 in which this constitution gave judgment earlier today, that the victims of these offences were not only adult prostitutes, but they came to this country for the purpose of carrying on a trade as prostitutes. The coercion to which they were subjected was extremely minor compared with the coercion and corruption to which the victim in Maka was subjected. That said, these activities were carried out by these two appellants for commercial gain, over a substantial period of time.

19 Looking at all the circumstances of this case, although we take the view that the learned judge was entirely right to impose deterrent sentences, the sentences which he did impose seemed to us to have been excessive. The appeal of Roci will be allowed. The sentence of four years passed upon him will be quashed. There will be substituted for it a sentence of three years' imprisonment. So far as Ismailaj is concerned, his appeal too will be allowed. The sentence of 11 years will be quashed and there will be passed upon him a sentence of nine years' imprisonment.