A gang who took Vietnamese girls from care and forced them to work in nail bars have become the first in Britain to be found guilty of child slavery charges.
Viet Hoang Nguyen, known as Ken, 29, and his 23-year-old wife Giang Huong Tran, known as Susan, were caught following a UK-wide police investigation.
A third member of the gang, Thu Huong Nguyen, 48, known as Jenny, was also found guilty of forced labour charges.
They were arrested after police raided Nail Bar Deluxe in Bath, Somerset, in February 2106.
When police searched Jenny’s home they found £60,000 in £50 notes stuffed inside a teddy bear in a wardrobe.
Two young women, aged 17 and 18, were put in care following the visit, but they later went missing.
Police then traced them to a nail bar in Burton-on-Trent, Staffs.
Thu Huong Nguyen, of Bath, was jailed for five years at Stafford Crown Court on Tuesday (2/1) after she was found guilty of conspiring to arrange or facilitate the movement of people for labour exploitation.
She was also found guilty of conspiring to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Both Viet Hoang Nguyen, and his wife, Giang Huong Tran, both of Burton-on-Trent, were found guilty of conspiracy to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Viet was jailed for four years, while Giang was given a two-year suspended sentence.
His Honour Judge Chambers described the three as “thoroughly devious, dishonest and manipulative.”
He said they treated the victims as commodities and exploited them for “pure economic greed”.
Police say the case is the first successful prosecution in the UK for exploitation and enforced child labour under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
The court heard that the women had to sleep in a loft space at the premises in Bath and were exploited to work without being paid.
They were moved about the country and exploited through the control which was held over them due to their lack of immigration status, age and social status.
Detective Inspector Charlotte Tucker, who led the operation for Avon and Somerset Police said: “Today marks the conclusion of a desperately sad case in which young vulnerable girls were forced to work in nail bars across the country as part of a sophisticated money-making operation.
“The investigation began when officers visited a nail bar in Bath managed by Thu Huong Nguyen, known as Jenny, and found two teenage victims working inside.
“They were taken into protective custody and then into care, but went missing shortly after.
“Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in trafficking cases, as victims are conditioned to feel reliant on those controlling them and compelled to return to them.
“Further enquiries and intelligence work traced the movements of the missing girls to a nail bar in Abbey Arcade, Burton-on-Trent.
“A joint investigation was carried out with Staffordshire Police which led to arrests at this nail bar.
“One of the missing victims was found, along with two further victims.
“This operation expanded rapidly and the national scale of the trafficking operation became clear, with links made to Bath, Cheltenham, Burton-on-Trent, Gloucester and Derbyshire.
“Through analysis and intelligence work we were able to connect all the defendants to each other.
“Evidence found at their properties also supported our case, including calendars, identity documents and data from mobile phones.
“Two teenage victims were safeguarded following the warrant carried out on Nail Deluxe in Bath and a further two were located at a nail bar in Burton-on-Trent.
“These victims have had traumatic childhoods and were treated by traffickers as commodities – forced to live and work in unsuitable conditions, with little or no pay, and enduring both physical and verbal abuse.
“We’re pleased with the custodial sentences given out today and hope this case acts as a stark reminder of how modern slavery victims are working and living in plain sight.
“As a community we need to look out for the warning signs and do our part to stop this archaic practice once and for all.
“In the case of nail bars, warning signs could be very young looking members of staff, low prices, a rapid turnover of staff or controlling behaviour by senior employees.”
Detective Inspector Clair Langley, of Staffordshire Police, said: “These victims were being exploited and the speed with which they were moved around the country indicates the level of organisation here.
“This is the first successful prosecution for child labour exploitation and child trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act and we hope it sends out a clear message – we won’t tolerate this activity and we will bring offenders before the courts.
“Recognition must be given to the police and prosecution teams involved across the UK regions to reach this successful outcome.
“This has been a significant and extensive investigation and a prime example of how police forces have to work together to target the traffickers.
“This investigation has been extremely challenging and recognition must be given to the police and prosecution teams involved across the UK regions to reach this successful outcome.
“The hard work, commitment and tenacity of the staff involved deserves great credit.
“We are delighted to have achieved this result and are proud that these perpetrators have now been brought to justice.”
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Modern slavery is a crime that we all need to be talking about more, it’s happening right now and in everyday situations.
“It’s vital that trafficking operations like this are disrupted, ensuring victims are supported and offenders are brought to justice.
“This multi-agency work is so important in preventing and ending modern slavery.
“We all need to be a louder voice for those who are exploited.”
Kate Garbers, managing director of charity Unseen, said: “We’re pleased to have been able to support this operation from its beginning and it’s again evidence of the proactive and positive partnership work happening in the South West.
“Modern Slavery cases are not easy to investigate and prosecute and there’s a fine balance to be achieved between identifying and disrupting this crime and ensuring those affected by it are effectively safeguarded and protected.
“Avon and Somerset Police and the other partners and forces involved should be proud of the result achieved in this investigation.”
The case comes after it emerged more than 150 Vietnamese youngsters have gone missing from their care and foster homes since 2015.
Baroness Butler-Sloss, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, described the recent figures as “very disturbing”.