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Linton couple tell of hell after human trafficking raid on D J Houghton Catching Services as they fight for livelihood

By Trevor Sturgess

A couple have described their "nine months of hell" since police raided their home and arrested them for suspected human trafficking.

Darrell and Jackie Houghton, who have never charged with any offence, spoke of their struggle to clear their name and resume their livelihood.

The Houghtons - who own chicken-catching business D J Houghton Catching Services - were woken in a dawn raid on their cottage in Wheelers Lane, Linton, in October last year.

Jackie Judge and Darrell Houghton
Jackie Judge and Darrell Houghton

The operation involved officers from Kent Police, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority and the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

The couple were quizzed separately and held for hours in Maidstone police cells.

Mrs Houghton said: "We had never been in trouble with the police and it was a shock."

The whole thing had been captured by TV crews invited along, made national headlines and appeared in many of the agricultural industry's trade journals.

Darrell Houghton is arrested on suspicion of human trafficking under the full glare of cameras
Darrell Houghton is arrested on suspicion of human trafficking under the full glare of cameras

Shortly after the raid, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority - set up in the wake of the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy - revoked the couple's licence.

This meant they have been unable to operate their business, which Mr Houghton set up 30 years ago after learning his trade on his father's chicken farm.

"So many terrible things were said about us. None of the allegations have been proved – but we still lost our business..." - Jackie Houghton

"We're fighting for the licence to be restored," said Mrs Houghton, "but getting nowhere."

"It's been nine months of hell," said added. "I feel very angry.

"I don't know how long financially we can carry on. We are two normal people running a chicken-catching business."

The Houghtons, who have two teenage children, employed 32 Eastern Europeans and worked for clients across the UK.

They insist they paid more than the national minimum wage, provided accommodation for their workers and looked after them well.

"I was known in the industry for paying the best. Everything was done properly," said 52-year-old Mr Houghton.

Officers raided the cottage of Darrell and Jackie Houghton at dawn. Picture: BBC South East
Officers raided the cottage of Darrell and Jackie Houghton at dawn. Picture: BBC South East

After the couple's arrest, senior staff at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Science sent a character reference.

It stated: "It is our opinion that Mr Houghton's teams did more work carefully and to a higher standard than other similar teams.

"…on no occasion did they [his staff] complain of their conditions. We found Mr Houghton to be very knowledgeable man... with a genuine interest in improving and working to the highest standards."

Since the raid, the Houghtons have had to report back to the police while investigations continued, but have now been told their bail has been lifted.

The Houghtons' home in Linton near Maidstone
The Houghtons' home in Linton near Maidstone

Mrs Houghton, 50, said: "It's so unfair. So many terrible things were said about us. None of the allegations have been proved – but we still lost our business."

A spokesman for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority said a public hearing into the restoration of the Houghtons' licence was unlikely to be held before the end of the year.

The authority was unable to comment further.


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