British company described as “the worst UK gangmaster ever” has appeal against licence revocation dismissed in scathing judgment

The British company being sued by six Lithuanian trafficked workers in the High Court, has been denied a new licence to operate as a gangmaster.

DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd, is being sued by six Lithuanian men trafficked to work for the Kent-based company as chicken catchers.

The company was condemned as “the worst UK gangmaster ever” by the public body tasked with protecting agricultural workers from labour exploitation, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

The GLA withdrew the company’s licence, but the company and its founders, Darrell Houghton and Jacqueline Judge, applied for another licence. When the new licence was not granted, the Houghtons appealed. The hearing was on 16 November and the decision was handed down on 24 November 2015.

In a scathing decision by the appointed person in the GLA Appeal, Employment Judge Sage described the Houghtons’ evidence as “less than candid and honest”.

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Judge Sage concluded that the Houghton’s evidence “did not seem to be honest and open and they displayed little or no understanding of the licensing conditions or of their obligations … . Their evidence reflected a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the licensing provisions or of their significant past failings.”

Shanta Martin, the Leigh Day lawyer representing six Lithuanian ex-workers in a High Court action against the Houghtons, welcomed the decision by the GLA appeal body.

“Our clients are claiming compensation for working incredibly long hours without adequate pay, being housed in squalid conditions and being badly mistreated by men employed by the Houghtons to act as supervisors.

“The failings of the Houghtons were documented by the GLA and led to their licence being revoked in 2012, “ said Ms Martin.

“Throughout the last 3 years, the Houghtons have shown no remorse. As Judge Sage noted, instead of accepting responsibility for their comprehensive failures, the Houghtons have blamed everyone but themselves.”

In defences filed for the Houghtons on 30 October in the civil claim, the defendants denied that they were involved in any trafficking or that they paid a middle man to recruit workers from Lithuania.

Yet during the GLA Appeal hearing, Ms Judge admitted that she paid money to a Lithuanian man, Edikas Mankevicius, for finding employees from the year 2000 until 2012.

The claimants in the civil claim were employed by DJ Houghton between 2008 and 2012.

The case continues in the High Court. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.