A council caretaker who smuggled two teenage girls into Britain and forced them to work as prostitutes after they were put under a voodoo curse was jailed for 20 years.
Failed Nigerian asylum seeker Anthony Harrison, 32, also became the first person to be convicted of trafficking the victims out of the UK in a groundbreaking case.
A jury at Woolwich Crown Court unanimously convicted Harrison of a string of trafficking charges but cleared him of two charges of rape.
The girls involved, aged 14 and 16, from Edo in Nigeria, are believed to be the first ‘Juju’ voodoo rites victims to give evidence in a European court.
The two teenagers–who cannot be identified for legal reasons–underwent a series of perverse ceremonies which saw one of them stripped naked, cut all over her body with razors and locked in a coffin for hours.
Another ceremony saw her forced to drink blood while yet another involved eating a chicken’s heart.
The Juju rituals were intended to ensure the victims were ‘bound’ to a medicine man and would never reveal the truth about their harrowing ordeals.
Until now, those who have undergone such rituals have refused to speak out of fear that a curse would kill them.
Harrison, of Albert Square, Stratford, east London, worked for Newham council under the name Charles Pepple.
Passing sentence, Judge Philip Shorrock said: ‘The trafficking of young girls from rural villages in Nigeria so they can be compelled to work as prostitutes is a vile business.
‘When they are as young as these girls and their innocence and credulity is exploited by subjecting them to Juju ceremonies to terrify them into obedience and silence, it is a trade that is viler still.’
Prosecutor Riel Karmy-Jones added: ‘It is the first time the crown have been able to persuade victims of this type of trafficking to give evidence in court.
‘It is the first time there’s been a prosecution for trafficking out of the UK.’
Harrison led a double life as a ‘key player’ in a people trafficking gang which used bizarre rituals to trap the children into sex slavery.
He arrived in the UK in April 2003, claiming to be Liberian, but evidence suggested he was actually from Nigeria.
Although his asylum application and subsequent appeals were refused, he was granted indefinite leave to remain under the Home Office ‘Legacy’ programme.
In 2009, Harrison oversaw the smuggling of the girls while he worked for Newham council.
Harrison then shipped them on to Spain and Greece to work in the sex industry.
When the trial started, Judge Shorrock warned jurors that they would hear evidence of terrifying voodoo rituals and gave them the chance to absent themselves from the trial.
The case evokes memories of the five-year-old west African boy, later identified simply as Adam, found washed up next to the Globe Theatre in 2001 after he was smuggled into Britain.
He had been drugged with a ‘black-magic’ potion and sacrificed in a Juju ritual killing before being thrown into the Thames.
Jurors heard how the two girls were sold by their families in Nigeria to people traffickers.
After being subjected to Juju rituals in Africa, they were given ‘scripts’ to tell UK immigration staff that they were claiming asylum, having been forced to flee their country because they were accused of being lesbians.
Once in the UK, both girls were placed in care before they absconded in order to contact their handler, Harrison.
Both girls were from a part of Nigeria where Juju magic or medicine ‘exists side by side and in conjunction with other religions such as Christianity.’
Ms Karmy-Jones told jurors ‘It is what many of us would immediately jump to call black magic, or a kind of voodoo, but we would probably be incorrect in that simplification,’ she said.
‘I am not going to give you any huge detail, other than to say that Juju is amongst those who believe in it considered to be very strong magic and is greatly feared.
‘Both girls were subjected to ceremonies involving this magic, although each appears to have been quite different, and it has taken a long time–two years of painstaking work–for the police involved in the investigation to build up sufficient trust for these two girls to talk more openly about what happened to them.’
Jurors heard both girls feared they would die if they exposed their captors to UK authorities.
In a taped interview with the 16-year-old who arrived in Britain on May 30, 2009, a female officer is heard to ask: ‘Do you still think that you’re going to die from talking to the police?’ She replied: ‘That’s what they told me but I don’t know.
‘At that time, I believed it–even till now–because people are scared of it and they said it kill people.
‘I always believed that if I talked to the police I will die–it was in my head.
‘It’s beginning to change because the first time I talk to the police I was waiting, I thought I was gonna die, but I was still waiting. Until now I haven’t died.’
The court heard the girl had been sold to the trafficking gang by her uncle, who had also sexually abused her.
After collecting the girl, Harrison made the girl sleep outside at his east London flat.
She was finally picked up by immigration officials in Madrid on June 20.
Later a 14-year-old girl was brought to the UK and forced to work as a prostitute out of a spare room at Harrison’s home before he attempted to pack her off to Greece.
The teenager was intercepted at Luton airport.
Giving evidence, Harrison denied he had been involved in a sophisticated plot to smuggle the girls through the UK to other European destinations.
He claimed he had been duped by a friend who told him both girls were relatives in need of help, before they flew to Spain and Greece, respectively, of their own volition.
He told the jury: ‘When I was arrested the police told me I had been charged with trafficking.
‘I was shocked. I did not know anything about any trafficking.’
From August 2004 until his arrest at the end of last year, he worked as a caretaker at Newham Council.
Ms Karmy-Jones added that it was impossible to be sure of his real age or name because he had used at least seven different aliases at various times.
Harrsion was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to traffic people into the UK for sexual exploitation, two of conspiracy to traffic out of the UK for sexual exploitation, two counts of false imprisonment and four of conspiracy to facilitate breaches of immigration law.
He also admitted five counts of fraud by using false names to obtain employment, credit cards and telephones at the outset of the trial.
Welcoming the conviction, DC Andy Desmond of the Metropolitan Police’s Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command said: ‘I would like to pay tribute to the two victims who showed tremendous courage by talking to the police and agreeing to testify against their captor.
‘These young women suffered the most terrifying and degrading ordeal–leaving them emotionally, psychologically and physically traumatised.
‘Most cruelly of all, they were brainwashed into believing that if they disobeyed their captors by seeking help, they would die.
‘They were also told that if they went to the police for help they would be handed straight back to their captors.
‘I hope that this conviction sends out a strong message to other victims who have suffered similar experiences that you can speak out without fearing for your lives.
‘The MPS is fully aware of this crime. We will listen to you, we will not dismiss you and we will do all we that we can to bring the perpetrators to justice.’