Published: 14:46, 11 August 2015
Six Lithuanian men are suing the owners of a Maidstone chicken-catching business claiming they were mistreated while working there.
The workers were among more than 30 people from the country employed by DJ Houghton Catching Services, a Linton company run by Darrell Houghton and Jackie Judge.
The business, which employed people to pick up the birds by hand so they could be transported to factories, was raided by police and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in October 2012 and the owners were arrested.
But almost three years on no charges have been brought against Mr Houghton, Miss Judge or anyone else and the Lithuanians have decided to file a civil case instead.
Solicitor Shanta Martin, a partner at Leigh Day, is representing the Lithuanians, and said the case, based on allegations of mistreatment, will be launched at London’s High Court.
She told the Kent Messenger: “The claims are to do with personal injury, breach of contract, unpaid wages and breaches of legislation.”
"They are now ready to take matters into their own hands. Criminal law seems to have let them down," solicitor Shanta Martin
She said the men “freed themselves from the situation about three years ago” and despite the passing of time, and their willingness to give evidence at any trial, no charges were ever brought against Mr Horton or Miss Judge.
She continued: “They feel let down by the police and like they’ve been left high and dry. They are now ready to take matters into their own hands. Criminal law seems to have let them down.”
Mr Houghton and Miss Judge have always strongly denied any claims of wrong-doing and launched an appeal to clear their names but abandoned it due to rising legal fees.
Mr Houghton told the Kent Messenger at the time: “None of it is true. If we had been criminally charged then we would stand in court and defend our name to the people that matter but that hasn’t happened.”
Several of the pair’s Lithuanian employees also came forward after the raid to say they had not been mistreated.
A Lithuanian man called Edikas Mankevicius could be central to the case as he was in charge of the workers but it is believed he has fled back to his home country.
A police spokesman said: “The investigation into the alleged exploitation of Lithuanian workers in Maidstone remains open and Kent Police will act on any further information that comes to light.
“One man who remains wanted in connection with the case – Edikus Macivicius – is believed to be in Lithuania but Kent Police’s request for a European arrest warrant was not authorised.
“Kent Police takes all reports of human trafficking seriously and through its partnership with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has supported the victims in this case and liaised closely with them throughout the investigation. We will continue to keep them updated with any developments.”
Ms Martin said Mr Houghton and Miss Judge had not filed a defence as of yesterday afternoon.
More by this authorSuz Elvey