A gangmaster who illegally supplied overseas workers to hundreds of UK dairy farms has been handed a suspended prison sentence during a hearing at Swindon Crown Court.

Christopher Blakeney, 50, of Conock, Devizes, supplied up to 70 workers to about 500 farms without holding the correct operating licence, the court heard. Mr Blakeney also deducted fees from salaries so workers were paid below the national minimum wage in a series of offences which took place over a period of more than three-and-a-half years.

He was given 12-months imprisonment suspended for two years for each of four counts of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster. The sentences are to run concurrently.

Mr Blakeney was also ordered by the court to pay a total of £45,000 over the next three years in direct compensation to the workers he supplied illegally.

In addition, a confiscation order was issued for £12,801 under the Proceeds of Crime Act with Mr Blakeney ordered to pay within six months or serve nine months in prison.

In summing up, Judge Euan Ambrose told Mr Blakeney: “You had persuaded yourself that you fell within the exclusion regulations, when it should have been obvious to you from the start that you did not.

“You withheld the workers’ first two months half-salary. Next you deducted administration fees, then you deducted money for accommodation – about £160 per month – when in fact the agreement with the farms was that the accommodation was free of charge.”

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