A British hospital nurse who used ‘voodoo’ magic to traffic Nigerian prostitutes into Europe was today (Thurs) found guilty in the first case of its kind in the UK.
Josephine Iyamu, 53, used a powerful witchdoctor to exert a control over her victims to fund a lavish lifestyle including jaunts to Europe to buy £700 designer shoes.
She was a ringleader of an international human trafficking crime network and lived in a huge Nigerian mansion worth more than £100,000 complete with a servants’ quarters.
Iyamu charged her each of her victims €30,000 and €38,000 to arrange for their travel to Europe – in one case profiting from more than €15,000 from one victim alone via wire transfers and cash payments.
She would first make the vulnerable women undergo “Juju” ceremonies which would involve them drinking blood containing worms and eating the heart of a chicken.
The victims would then be forced to endure an arduous five day journey to the Libyan coast – which saw them shot at, ambushed and gang raped.
They would then catch an inflatable boat crammed with hundreds of people to Italy before being moved into Germany to work as prostitutes.
German police identified Iyamu as the ringleader of a Nigerian human trafficking operation after a brothel owner reported suspicions over one of his workers’ paperwork last January.
Iyamu and her husband Efe Ali-Imaghodor, 60, were arrested at Heathrow Airport on August 24 last year after travelling back from Nigeria.
Police found her in possession of seven mobile phones and more than 30 SIM cards linked them to the German investigation.
Officers also discovered a piece of paper detailing a list of items needed as part of the “Juju” ceremonies and another with telephone numbers of criminal associates.
Today (Thurs) Iyamu was convicted by a jury of five counts of arranging to facilitate travel of another person for exploitation following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
She was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice after paying Nigerian police to arrest one of the victims’ relatives in a bid to stop the woman giving evidence against them in the trial while both were in police custody in the UK.
The jury of ten women and one man took 11 hours to come to return their verdict following the eight-week week long trial.
Iyamu, who was dressed in a turquoise shawl, held her hand to her mouth bowed her head as the verdict was read out.
Judge Richard Bond said: “This is the first case in England and Wales under the new 2015 act whereby people have been trafficked from one country into another country.
“This is going to set a precedent when it comes to sentence. Whatever sentence I impose, I anticipate it will be challenged.”
Iyamu – aka ‘Madam Sandra’ – had worked 37 days in 2016/17 as an agency nurse in south east London hospitals for NHS Capitol Staffing Services.
She lived with husband Ali-Imaghodor, a cloakroom attendant, in an ex-council home in Bermondsey, south east London.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation found the victims – aged 24 to 30 – were made to undergo Juju rituals which exercised a control “tighter than chains.”
They were so terrified by the threat of voodoo magic that they had to undergo another black magic “revokation” ceremony to undo the oath they took to pay Iyamu.
Kay Mellor, NCA senior investigating officer, said Iyamu, originally from Liberia, became a British citizen in 2009 – which allowed her to be prosecuted under section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act.
The officer explained she is the first British national to be convicted of human trafficking crimes not involving British victims and which were not committed in the country.
She said: “Since 2009 she was a British citizen which allows us therefore to use the legislation of the Modern Slavery Act.
“She was a registered nurse, she was an agency nurse and that totally goes against for me what a nurse is – somebody who looks after people, who makes them better and certainly what she was doing was totally opposed to what in my mind a nurse should be.”
The trafficking investigation – Operation Redroot – began after one victim was arrested and told German police of Iyamu’s crimes – who then wire-tapped the victims’ mobile phones.
The prostitute last January told German police she was born into a “relatively poor family” in Nigeria and was told she could earn huge amounts of money working as a prostitute in Europe.
Ms Mellor said: “In return of making those arrangements she has charged them an enormous amount of money and by working as prostitutes these would need to repay their debts.
“They agreed that they wanted to travel to Europe but in order to they had to go through a Juju ceremony.”
The officer explained Juju was a form of voodoo with “highly respected” priests in West Africa and added: “They exert an insidious control which an expert witness has said is more powerful than chains.”
The Nigerian victims visited the priest multiple times and for up to a week as part of the oath-swearing ceremony.
Describing the ceremony, the officer added “They were given blood containing worms to drink.
“A chicken was used to hit her naked body on the back and on the chest.
“She had to eat the heart of the chicken which had just been killed.
“And the priest would cut their skin and mouth with a razor blade.”
Iyamu then took snippets of her victims’ head and pubic hair and kept them in individualised packages and “she told the girls, ‘You have now eaten from the devil and if you do not pay, the devil will kill you.’”
The victims would then undertake a “horrendous” journey across the Sahara desert from Nigeria to the Libyan coast.
They were shot at in an overcrowded bus filled, ambushed and gang-raped – before waiting for up to two weeks before being shipped to Italy on an inflatable boat carrying more than 100 people.
The officer said the bus journey would take five days and added: “It was just horrendous the journey they took and very dangerous.
“The women are all from various little villages around Benin city.
“During that journey the bus was shot at, hi-jacked, sometimes they had to travel across the desert on foot.
“It could be up to two weeks before an inflatable boat could come to take them to Italy.”
The victims were moved to a migration camp in Verona before being given false identification papers allowing them to travel to Germany where brothels are legal.
Iyamu forced one of her victims to have an abortion in Italy after being raped and impregnated on the journey.
The officer said: “Despite still bleeding, Madam Sandra told her that she had to start work as soon as possible, she needed to pay the extra €500 to cover the cost of the abortion.”
German police found text messages from Iyamu to her victim forcing her to work as a prostitute while still bleeding from her operation.
The victim wrote: “Have you forgotten that you sent me straight back to work right after my abortion, even though I as still bleeding?”
Iyamu said: “Time is dragging on. Pull your finger out!”
After her arrest, Iyamu only confirmed her name in police interviews and gave ’no comment’ answers to all other questions.
NCA Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said: “Modern Slavery is an abhorrent crime, victims are known to suffer violence and also the threat of violence.
“Our assessment is that we will see a gradual increase in the number of cases identified over the course of the three years.
“The business model that the smugglers use and. the traffickers use are pretty much on of the same.
“Nigerian represents a fifth of most common nationality of victims.”
Iyamu will be sentenced on July 4.
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