Kent gangmasters in Lithuanian court over chicken catchers

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Media caption,

The six chicken catchers worked on farms across the UK

A British couple are facing a trial for modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation in a Lithuanian court.

Darrell Houghton and Jackie Judge used Lithuanian workers in their chicken catching firm in West Malling, Kent.

In 2016 a High Court judge ordered the gangmasters to pay £1m in compensation to six men who claimed to have been physically and mentally abused.

After a joint operation with Kent Police, authorities in Lithuania started criminal proceedings.

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

Appearing at a preliminary hearing in Lithuania earlier, both pleaded not guilty to "taking advantage of human vulnerability, recruiting and trafficking people... through the use of physical and mental violence" and exploiting them "under conditions of slavery", in relation to 12 victims.

Lithuanian middle-man Edikas Mankevicius also pleaded not guilty to recruiting and transporting people "in order to use them forcibly".

It is alleged Mr Mankevicius recruited more than 30 migrants aged between 19 and 58 for Mr Houghton and Ms Judge.

The court heard they were promised well-paid work in good conditions, catching chickens destined for slaughter from farms across the UK.

Instead, it is alleged they were kept in squalid conditions, "threatened with a Rottweiler, forced to eat rotten eggs, and thrown from windows" in their role at DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd.

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

In 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Houghton and Ms Judge but four years later a High Court judge ruled in favour of the workers.

A few months later Mr Mankevicius - who Kent Police had been looking for - was arrested in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

The trial is listed for 3 September.

Mr Houghton and Ms Judge were served notifications of suspicion by the Lithuanian authorities, meaning they must participate in proceedings, and will appear via video link from Medway Magistrates Court.