Sex worker harm reduction visits at Harrogate brothel sparked downfall of fledgling international sex trafficking business run from Norfolk
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Following an intensive four-year investigation by North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit, a married couple from Norfolk have been brought to justice for sexually exploiting seven vulnerable women in what amounted to modern day slavery.
Fabiani Alvez De Souza, aged 42, and Gareth Derby, aged 53, both of Town Street, Upwell, Norfolk, were both sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Leeds Crown Court today – Monday 21 February 2022 – having been found guilty following a two-week trial in December.
De Souza was charged with eight offences contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of controlling prostitution for gain, along with seven offences contrary to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 for arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
Derby faced two charges in relation to controlling prostitution for gain and arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation. Both these offences involved the same woman who was the first to work as a prostitute in the rented flat in Harrogate.
They were handed slavery and trafficking orders that will last for 10 years following their release from prison.
The seven victims involved in the case are from Brazil, Portugal and Spain and aged between 26 and 60.
Detective Constable Leah Kitchen, of the Organised Crime Unit, was commended by The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Guy Kearl QC, who said: “The officer in the case had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the case, this was a difficult case to put together and she should be commended for her work to bring this case before the court.”
Background to the investigation
In January 2017, North Yorkshire Police launched “Operation Oasis”. This involved police officers conducting harm reduction visits to identify and support vulnerable sex workers across North Yorkshire.
Between October 2017 and May 2018, officers attended the same location on Bower Road, Harrogate, on six separate occasions during which they spoke to five women who were sex workers.
After the third visit in December 2017, it became clear that a brothel was being operated from the flat and that another woman was facilitating the travel of the women working at the premise to the UK and that she was also involved in the management of their activities.
These concerns were passed to Detective Inspector Fionna McEwan in North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit. Her team began an in-depth investigation led by the officer in the case, Detective Constable Leah Kitchen.
Rented flat in Harrogate, adult website adverts and arranging travel and accommodation for sex workers
It was established that De Souza was the person who was renting the flat on Bower Road in Harrogate and that she had created, posted and paid for the adverts on an adult website under “Escorts and Massages” in Yorkshire and the Humber with a partial Harrogate post code.
At the same time, she also paid for similar adverts in the South Wooton/PE30 area which related to another rented address on Nelson Street in Kings Lynn.
The investigators were able to establish a pattern of activity of De Souza or Derby paying for flights from locations such as Lisbon, Amsterdam and Brussels to Manchester and Stansted airports, as well as train and road travel within the UK including from these airports to the rented flats in Harrogate and Kings Lynn.
The first time this occurred, on 27 September 2017, is a perfect illustration of how the pair operated their illegal enterprise.
Evidence showed that De Souza and Derby had travelled from their home address to Manchester Airport that evening in Derby’s work van.
They collected a woman who had flown in from Amsterdam and they drove her to the flat in Harrogate.
At 6.28am the next day, financial enquiries confirmed that an advert was uploaded to an adult website paid for by De Souza.
Evidence again confirmed that De Souza and Derby left Harrogate to return to Kings Lynn shortly after the advert went live.
Between 30 September and 13 October 2017, three cash deposits were made in Harrogate to De Souza’s bank account of £163, £600 and £1,045.
During this period neither De Souza nor Derby were in Harrogate.
When the first harm reduction visit at the flat was carried out by North Yorkshire Police on 8 October 2017, officers were able to establish that it was the same woman who had been collected from Manchester Airport by De Souza and Derby.
The investigation showed that De Souza was controlling this woman’s activities. Between 25 and 30 October, two further cash deposits were made into De Souza’s bank account in Harrogate of £500 and £600 respectively, again during this period De Souza and Derby were in Norfolk.
Financial records showed that De Souza then paid £70.98 for an EasyJet flight for the same woman who flew from London Stansted to Amsterdam on 29 October.
On 8 August 2018, North Yorkshire Police and Norfolk Constabulary attended the couple’s then home address at Walpole St Andrew. Upon entering the property officers found one woman who had previously been encountered at the Harrogate flat.
Officers then had to force their way into the garage which had been converted into a small flat where they found another woman who was involved in prostitution.
De Souza was arrested and taken into custody for questioning. Derby was working out of the country at that time but was arrested on his return.
De Souza and Derby clearing the flat out in Harrogate
The converted garage the couple used at their home in Norfolk for their illegal prostitution business
Considerable financial gain through controlling prostitution
A detailed financial examination showed that the couple had spent several thousands of pounds setting up the business, including paying for the adult website adverts and travel and accommodation for the woman who worked as prostitutes.
However, cash deposits totalling more than £40,000 were found to have been paid into their bank accounts during this six-month period.
Detective Constable Leah Kitchen, of the Organised Crime Unit, said:
“De Souza claimed throughout the investigation that she was just helping friends of hers who were working as prostitutes, while Derby repeatedly told the police that he was unaware of what was going on.
“The truth of the matter is that they, together, were operating an illegal business involving human trafficking and controlling prostitution for gain.
“Among the considerable evidence we were able to recover were WhatsApp messages in which De Souza refers to herself as ‘the boss’.
“Tellingly, WhatsApp messages from De Souza to Derby in June 2017 included the following:
‘Let me tell you something…the first month was an experience, but there are still a lot of adjustments to make so we can actually make money.
‘At this point we have more than 10 women interested in working for us, but we need to have other conditions for our business to work. Try to find another apartment…or we’ll both try to find to make our business more profitable.’
“It is clear from these messages alone that they were determined to expand their business. They had invested thousands of pounds, but they had profited by more than £40,000 during this six-month period.
“This considerable sum of cash was gained through the exploitation of seven vulnerable women in what amounted to modern day slavery.
“I’m very proud that North Yorkshire Police, with assistance from Norfolk Constabulary, have rooted out this activity and brought the offenders to justice.”
DC Kitchen added: “This is an important case as it is a victimless prosecution for a human trafficking and controlling prostitution investigation, which is unusual and more difficult to progress to court.
“It has also shown the importance of a safeguarding approach to policing, because if it wasn’t for the sex worker harm reduction visits carried out in Harrogate under Operation Oasis, this fledgling international sex trafficking business may have grown significantly without coming to the attention of the police.”
Seeking help and support about sexual exploitation and people trafficking and reporting suspicious activity
If you or someone you know is in a similar situation to the vulnerable people in this case, please call the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700 or make a report online via www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/report.
It is free to use, confidential, open 24 hours and is available on 200 languages.