Chicken catchers win claim against Maidstone gangmaster

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Media captionThe six chicken catchers worked on farms across the UK

Six men have won a legal case against a Kent gangmaster firm they claim trafficked them to the UK to work as chicken catchers.

The Lithuanian men said DJ Houghton Catching Services used a Lithuanian trafficker before exploiting them.

The firm lost its licence after police raids in 2012 and was branded "the worst UK gangmaster ever" by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

The amount of compensation due to the men will be assessed at a later date.

Image caption Kent Police carried out an early morning raid on the premises of DJ Houghton in 2012

High Court judge Justice Supperstone found against the company, based in Wheelers Lane, Maidstone, and owners Darrell Houghton and Jackie Judge.

DJ Houghton employed the men, aged between 19 and 58, to catch birds in chicken houses on farms across the UK between 2008 and 2012.

They then had to load them on to trucks bound for processing plants.

Image caption The men were employed to catch birds in chicken houses across the UK

The judge found the company unlawfully withheld wages and failed to ensure the workers had adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

He also found it paid the men for the number of chickens caught rather than for the time worked and spent travelling.

The men claimed they had to travel for up to seven hours before being put to work in filthy conditions without proper equipment or clothing.

They also said they threatened and abused by supervisors with dogs.

Image caption The Gangmasters Licensing Authority revoked DJ Houghton's licence in after the raid in 2012

Lawyers for the Lithuanian men said the case was the first time the High Court had ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company.

"It...should be seen as a warning to British companies that they must eradicate all forms of modern slavery from their businesses, whether in the UK or elsewhere," said Leigh Day partner Shanta Martin.

Claims against the company by 10 other migrants are outstanding.

Kent Police said its investigation into the alleged exploitation of Lithuanian workers in Maidstone remained open.

"We will act on any further information that comes to light," said a spokesman.

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