A COUPLE who trafficked a man and a woman from Lithuania into the country and forced one to sleep under the stairs have been jailed.

Rita Jablonskaite and Robertas Repsas, from Padgate, were accused of smuggling two Lithuanian nationals into the country before forcing them into slavery.

The pair admitted human trafficking but pleaded not guilty to charges of keeping a person in slavery during the trial in October.

The slavery charges remained on file because the jury was discharged from returning verdicts.

On Friday, Liverpool Crown Court heard how Jablonskaite, 34 and Repsas, 31 of Westland Drive, arranged for a homeless man to travel to the UK from Lithuania – telling him he would be paid £100 up front and provided with accommodation, food and cigarettes in exchange for cleaning their house.

Warrington Guardian:

Repsas and Jablonskaite outside court after an earlier hearing

Nicola Daley, prosecuting, said: "After arriving in the country in June 2017 in a minibus on a P&O Ferry, the man was taken to an address on Fitzherbert Street in Orford where he slept in the attic.

"When the couple moved home after Christmas that year, he then slept in a cupboard under the stairs on a mattress with a pillow and blanket."

It was alleged that the pair controlled the 50-year-old’s work and finances – taking out loans and store cards using his details and setting up bank accounts for him, which they used to pay for their own council tax, mobile phone top-ups, motoring fines and petrol.

READ MORE > The cupboard where a slave was kept

The court was told how Jablonskaite paid him £30 a week which he 'thought was a good deal'.

The man’s understanding of English, finances and possessions were ‘limited’ – with the only items he owned being a mobile phone he had found at the recycling plant where he worked in St Helens and a bag of old coins he had been collecting.

He lived with the defendants for around a year before he ‘stood up for himself and left’ in March 2018, when he contacted the Lithuanian embassy.

Jablonskaite claimed to have ‘come across him in Warrington and took pity on him as he was a fellow Lithuanian with nowhere to stay’ before helping him to find employment and open bank accounts.

Warrington Guardian: The bed under the stairs where one man sleptThe bed under the stairs where one man slept

She then arranged for a Lithuanian woman to travel to the UK in June 2018, which she claimed ‘an act of kindness because of the problems she was having in her home country’.

Ms Daley told the court that Jablonskaite knew the woman had been in a violent relationship in Lithuania.

She said: "The woman had a hard life back home and needed money.

"Rita Jablonskaite exploited that and kept her as an unpaid cleaner and houseworker.

"The woman said she was planning to live in Warrington because her sister was there but life was not the same."

Police became aware of the 51-year-old migrant – who worked for 34-year-old Jablonskaite’s cleaning firm and cleaned the house where they lived – upon visiting the couple’s home in August last year.

She handed the officers a note saying 'I want to go home'.

In the mornings, she would usually only have coffee and a cigarette and often did not eat in the evenings.

On occasions, she was so hungry that she cried and her weight dropped from 73kg to 62kg.

Ayaz Qazi, defending Jablonskaite, said: "There was psychological and financial exploitation but both appear to have made a recovery.

"The psychological harm is not of the most serious type.

"The man was quite capable of leaving, he walked past a police station a number of times on visits to the shop.

"Also, it did not carry on for a long period of time.

"She had a different cultural upbringing and was not familiar with the consequences of her behaviour.

"She has since shown a great deal of remorse and is the carer of a child who will have to go into care if she is sent to prison."

Jablonskaite wept in the dock as evidence was read out.

Sukhdev Garcha, defending Repsas, said: "He now accepts what he did was wrong but there is a clear distinction between Jablonskaite's and Repsas' criminality.

"He asked the girl if she had eaten a number of times and made sure she had food.

"He played a lesser role."

Judge Louise Brandon said: “This case brings home the true horror and misery of modern slavery. 

“You, Ms Jablonskaite, played a significant role. 

“Your role, Mr Repsas, it has been put forward, was that of a supporter- it was more than that. 

“Your role was crucial to make sure the man was ‘invisibly handcuffed’ to the both of you.

“There was a high level of organisation and planning.

“The treatment that they suffered has had a significant physical impact on them. 

“The motivation in both of these cases was financial gain. 

“The victims were treated simply as a means of making money for the two of you.”

Rita Jablonskaite was jailed for 28 months and Robertas Repsas was handed a 15-month sentence.

Detective Inspector Julie Jackson, of the Hidden Harm Team based at Warrington Police Station, said: “The two vulnerable victims in this case were sold on the idea of coming to England to work and earn money whilst living with a family from their homeland.

“But they ended up being controlled and exploited by Robertas Repsas and Rita Jablonskaite, working excessive hours and not having any money to show for it.

“With them having had their identification taken off them, speaking very little English, being totally dependent on the offenders and having no way of contacting anyone in Lithuania, both victims felt trapped.

“Thankfully, the first victim, who was initially living in the offenders’ attic before having to sleep in a downstairs cupboard when they moved to a different house in Warrington, found a mobile phone whilst at work and used it to report what he was being subjected to, first to a friend and then to the Lithuanian embassy.

“Those phone calls paved the way for him, and latterly the second victim, to be safeguarded and for the couple who subjected them to modern slavery to be brought to justice.

“The second victim was trafficked, controlled and exploited whilst the couple knew they were being investigated for doing the same to the first victim.

“This beggars belief and shows that the couple believed that they were above the law as they took advantage of vulnerable people for financial and domestic gain.

“I am delighted that the pair are now behind bars facing the consequences of their actions and I hope this case reassures the community that we take reports of human trafficking and modern slavery extremely seriously.

“I also hope that it deters others from committing similar offences.”