A man and two women have been sentenced following a long-running investigation into the trafficking of vulnerable women into the UK for prostitution.
Sussex Police said Hong Chin was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, two to be served in custody and the remainder on licence, at the Old Bailey last Thursday (October 26).
He was also made subject to a Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order until further notice – the first of its kind in Sussex.
This prevents him from holding a passport or identity documents in someone else’s name, other than family members; arranging travel for anyone other than family members; and arranging hotel accommodation for anyone other than family members.
Police said at the same court today (Friday, November 3), Li Wei Gao was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work; and Tingli Lu was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 20 hours of unpaid work.
A total of 19 victims, all from South East Asia, were identified as being exploited at hotels across the South East between 2013 and 2015.
Police said the victims were taken to various hotels across the South East, including Brighton and Eastbourne.
Sussex Police first became aware of the illicit operation in February 2015 after one of the women reported being debt bonded, which led to extensive enquiries being carried out.
Four people were arrested in connection with the investigation on June 10 2015 and later charged.
Police said that four people were arrested in connection with the investigation on June 10 2015 and later charged. Hong Chin (male, from Malaysia), 45, a takeaway restaurant employee, of Newton Wood Road, Ashtead, Surrey, was charged with: Together with Li Wei Gao, conspiring to control prostitution for gain; together with Tingli Lu, conspiring to control prostitution for gain; together with Li Wei Gao, conspiring to traffic people for sexual exploitation into the UK; together with Tingli Lu, conspiring to traffic people for sexual exploitation into the UK.
Li Wei Gao (female, from China), 44, unemployed, of Portsmouth Road, Esher, Surrey, was charged with: Together with Hong Chin, conspiring to control prostitution for gain; together with Hong Chin, conspiring to traffic people for sexual exploitation into the UK.
Tingli Lu (female, from China), 47, a beautician, of Somers Road, Southsea, Hampshire, was charged with: together with Hong Chin, conspiring to control prostitution for gain; together with Hong Chin, conspiring to traffic people for sexual exploitation into the UK.
During a trial, which started at the Old Bailey in London on August 21, police said a fourth person charged in connection with the case was found not guilty of all charges against him.
The remaining three defendants were all found guilty by a jury on October 5 and later sentenced.
Detective Inspector Andy Richardson said: “I’m delighted with the sentence and I’m delighted we were successful in our application for a Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order against Chin, which will stop him exploiting vulnerable women again.
“It also sends out a clear message that this sort of activity will not be tolerated, and that anyone caught doing so will be dealt with robustly.
“This has been a complex and lengthy investigation where vulnerable women were trafficked into the UK for the purposes of prostitution.
“Often the women were moved to different towns around the South East where hotel rooms were booked for them, and then they were told who they would be seeing and what services they had to offer; they had no say in any of this.
“Each of the defendants vehemently denied the offences, however through exploring their movements, their finances and their lifestyle arrangements we were able to provide key evidence to the prosecution.
“We were able to show the hundreds of hotel and adult website bookings the defendants made, and recovered numerous mobile telephones, SIM cards and hotel room keys as well as other key evidence in searches.
“This was effectively a well organised and structured business which made the defendants thousands of pounds, as was seen from their bank accounts.
“Over the course of the investigation officers spoke to a number of women with their safety and welfare at the forefront of our minds.
“Each of the women we spoke to were offered support and protection (through the National Referral Mechanism).
“Our case was also supported by the strength of the account given by one of the victims, who bravely gave evidence at the trial and I am grateful for her cooperation.
“These convictions are a really positive result for Sussex Police, for the victims involved and for all communities to show that human trafficking is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
“Working with partner agencies, we are committed to preventing and detecting human trafficking, and protecting vulnerable victims. We will continue to investigate all reports of human trafficking to bring offenders to justice.
“We would also encourage any other victims of human trafficking to report it to us online or call 101, or in an emergency call 999. We are here to help and support you.”
Kevin Thomson, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was an organised operation designed to traffic women into prostitution, as shown by the variety of bank accounts used to run it and the sheer amount of funds it generated. These elements helped to provide compelling evidence of what these defendants were doing.
“The gang exploited vulnerable women, putting them to work in situations which exposed them to serious potential risks. Once the women were caught up in the prostitution ring, it was invariably almost impossible for them to escape the life they had been forced into.
“All the time, they were then earning what turned out to be huge sums of money for the defendants, who were responsible for running the operation without any regard for the women’s wellbeing.”