THE alleged leader of a criminal plot to exploit Carlisle car wash workers viewed an online newspaper article reporting an immigration visit to the site while he was in Slovenia, a jury has heard.

Three men are on trial at the city’s crown court. Defrim Paci, 42, his 37-year-old brother Jetmir Paci and Sitar Ali, aged 33, all stand accused of modern slavery crimes involving Romanian nationals who worked at the Shiny hand car wash in Warwick Road during 2016 and 2017.

Defrim Paci is alleged by the prosecution to have “operated at the top of the conspiracy”, having been “responsible for buying the land and setting up the venture.

Both he and his brother — who was involved in building work at site — deny being responsible for the day-to-day running of the enterprise. Ali accepts running the car wash, but denies any wrongdoing, telling investigators he treated staff well and had no issues with them.

Jurors heard employees transported from Romania allegedly lived in squalid conditions at homes in Spencer Street and Compton Street, some reporting being given no breaks from work or protective clothing, and being burned by cleaning chemicals. One described the working conditions as being “like slaves”.

Another, when later shown payslips by police indicating his rates, said he was never paid that amount, claiming the documents “understated his working hours and overstated his pay”.

There were two immigration visits to the site, the first on October 17, 2016, when two workers were spoken to.

And, opening the case to jurors, prosecutor Martin Reid said: “At this time, Defrim Paci’s phone was in Slovenia. There are seven entries on his phone indicating that he had viewed the News & Star website that day.

“On that date, the News & Star publicised that a visit had been made to Shiny by the police and immigration services.”

That same day, a phone handset attributed to Jetmir Paci received a WhatsApp message from Ali containing the article. “That is, the prosecution say, further evidence that all three defendants had a collective and ongoing interest and involvement in what was going on at the car wash,” alleged Mr Reid.

Defrim Paci, of Windmill Close, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire; Jetmir Paci, of Minimum Terrace, Chesterfield, and Ali, of Adelaide Street, Carlisle, deny two charges: conspiracy to require others to perform forced or compulsory labour at Shiny in Carlisle; and conspiracy to facilitate travel with a view to exploitation. Ali further denies possessing criminal cash.

The trial continues.