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Gangmaster stripped of licence

PUBLISHED: 10:42 08 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:04 07 July 2010

A Suffolk gangmaster who forced hundreds of Polish migrants to work in “disgraceful” conditions has been stripped of his licence and warned that he faces possible prosecution.

A Suffolk gangmaster who forced hundreds of Polish migrants to work in “disgraceful” conditions has been stripped of his licence and warned that he faces possible prosecution.

Jonathan Beckson, director of Timberland Homes Ltd, based in Lakenheath, told immigrants they faced huge deductions from their wages and threatened to involve their families back home if they resigned from their flower picking jobs, it has emerged.

Officials from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) yesterday said that the employer subjected his workers to “shocking” conditions when he supplied labour to two UK flower growing companies.

Mr Beckson, who provided “abhorrent” accommodation and unsuitable transport for around 400 Polish workers at Winchester Growers, in Cornwall, and Grampian Growers, in Montrose, Scotland, had his gangmaster's licence revoked with immediate effect on Tuesday.

Officers from the GLA said they found “sinister” threatening letters to workers saying they could not leave before the end of their contract without paying £700 and if they didn't have the money it would be recovered from their families.

Some of the workers said they received £24 for a nine-hour day and were paid just 4p for every bunch of flowers they picked. No timesheets were used so pay rates could not be recorded and workers were charged for protective clothing. Between six and eight workers shared rooms in converted farm buildings and there were not enough beds for everyone, a spokesman for the authority added.

Mr Beckson has been warned that he faces prosecution if he continues to supply labour to the agriculture, horticulture and shellfish gathering industries in the UK and the GLA has passed on the information from the case to the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

The GLA was set up to curb the exploitation of workers following the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004.

Paul Whitehouse, chairman of the GLA, said the authority was uncovering cases of forced labour and intimidation all too frequently.

“There is another world out there that the vast majority of us are lucky enough not to see. Some labour providers are doing a great job in a tough industry but the rogue gangmasters are making workers' lives a misery and it is these crooks we are committed to catching.”

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the Unite union, added: “The breadth and depth of this abuse is staggering. This action by the GLA will free these workers from a working hell and send a powerful signal to other employers in this sector that if they cheat workers they will be put out of business.”

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