BADLY-paid staff who worked up to 12 hours a day at a Carlisle car wash business were made to live in a dirty and rat-infested house by their bosses, a jury heard.

Romanian employees at the Shiny Car Wash business in Warwick Road also routinely had their identity cards confiscated so they could not leave. That was just one of the allegations put before a Carlisle Crown Court jury as three men went on trial accused of modern-day “slavery” offences.

The accused men – Carlisle based Sitar Ali, 31, Defrim Paci, 40, and his 35-year-old brother Jetmir Paci – all deny wrongdoing.

Opening the case, barrister Martin Reid outlined the prosecution case.

“This case is about forced labour and arranging for people to come to the UK with a view to their being exploited,” the barrister told the jury.

“It is the Crown’s case the defendants agreed to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour on their behalf at a car wash here in Carlisle… For this offence to be committed, it is not necessary to prove that the defendants had agreed to imprison or physically restrain them.”

Mr Reid said Defrim Paci was at the head of the conspiracy, responsible for buying the land and setting up the business.

Jetmir Paci was involved in building work at the car wash and transporting staff. Sitar Ali managed staff, their wages, and transport to the UK, say the prosecution.

He also arranged accommodation for workers and collected their rent. Mr Reid said: “It is the Crown’s case the circumstances created by the defendants led to [the workers] freedom effectively being overridden, and they were compelled to work long hours in bad conditions, for little pay.”

Some staff had their identity cards taken until they repaid the £130 cost of bringing them from Romania to Carlisle. Some were left with only £20 after working a week of 11 hour shifts, often for six days of the week, he said.

The barrister summarised accounts given by some of the Romanian workers.

Mr Reid said: “He was told that initially he would be paid £25 a day, and that would rise to up to £50 if he was a good worker. Once he arrived in Carlisle, he realised he had to pay for food, accommodation and electricity.

"He said that there were 12 people living in his house, and each paid £30 a week, with an additional £10 a week for electricity.

“He also said that he was required to pay back the £130 for his travel from his wages. He said this resulted in his having £10 left from his wages for the first week.”

The man described the Spencer Street accommodation he had to live in. Mr Reid said: “At one point there was an insect infestation.

“He was given a solution to disinfect the house by the landlord. There were rats in the property at one point and he described the accommodation as ‘very dirty’.” He was told he would be sacked if he moved out.

Staff told police they were given no protective clothing and suffered skin problems as a result of using aggressive chemicals in their work. Asked about his daily working conditions, the man said: “They treated me…like they would do with a slave."

The man said whenever anyone new came to work at the car wash, Sitar would keep their identity cards to ensure that they paid their debts. They did not leave because they not have the money to go back; their debt was keeping them there, he said.

All three defendants have denied conspiring to requiring persons to perform forced labour and conspiring to facilitate the travel to Carlisle of Romanian nationals for the purpose of exploitation.

Sitar Ali, of Adelaide Street, Carlisle, is also charged with possessing criminal property - £16,000, which was allegedly generated by criminal behaviour. He also denies that charge.

Defrim Paci’s address was given as Windmill Close, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire; and Jetmir Paci’s address is given as Minimum Terrace, Chesterfield.

The trial is expected to last five or six weeks.