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Illegal Norfolk gangmaster loses appeal against seven year sentence

PUBLISHED: 13:20 07 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:20 07 November 2014

Audrius Morkunas. Pic Submitted

Audrius Morkunas. Pic Submitted

Archant

An illegal gangmaster who exploited migrant workers has been told by top judges has lost an appeal against his seven year jail sentence.

Audrius Morkunas ran a garage in Norwich and made about £100,000 from 250 immigrants who he placed in cramped, sub-standard accommodation.

He also charged them ‘fees’ to help set them up with bank accounts and with work.

The 41-year-old, of Grove Road, Melton Constable, as jailed at Norwich Crown Court in December last year by Judge Nicholas Coleman who described him as “the principal person in the economic exploitation of migrant workers”.

He previously admitted acting as a gang master without a licence, money laundering and possession of an article for use in fraud.

Morkunas was also found guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm and having an offensive weapon.

He challenged his sentence at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, with his lawyers arguing it was ‘too long’ for his crimes.

The Lithuanian national also launched a bid to have his assault conviction overturned.

But both appeals were unsuccessful, with three of the country’s most senior judges ruling his conviction ‘safe’ and his jail term ‘not excessive’.

The court heard Morkunas was the ringleader in a gang which exploited economic migrants from Lithuania.

He put workers into jobs in agriculture and at food processing factories around Norfolk, charging them a fee to help them get work and to open a bank account.

He then kept control of their bank accounts and had a number of workers living in rented accommodation, which was often cramped and below par, for about £50 a week.

When police raided the garage he ran, in Duke Street, Norwich, they seized a number of paper and documents - including the passports and ID cards of some of his workers.

The prosecution case was he made £100,000 from his illegal activities between January 2009 and September 2012.

Morkunas claimed he had not done anything wrong, but he eventually admitted breaching the Gangmasters’ Licensing Act - which was introduced in the wake of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers’ tragedy.

The assault he was found guilty of happened in May 2012, when he and three ‘henchmen’ attacked a worker who was not paying up and was getting into debt.

The incident was captured on CCTV and Morkunas was identified by police officers.

His lawyers argued his conviction for the attack was ‘unsafe’ because of errors made during the identification process, but this appeal was dismissed.

Rejecting his sentence appeal also, Lady Justice Sharp said seven years was justified.

Sitting with Mr Justice Blake and Judge Alistair McCreath, she added: “This case involved the well-organised exploitation of a large number of migrant workers, by the control of their accommodation and bank accounts.

“There was a background of threats, violence and intimidation.

“He displayed no remorse or empathy with the victim.”

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