BY TOBY PORTER
A South London nurse used voodoo rituals on vulnerable women before forcing them to become sex slaves.
Josephine Iyamu, 51, who lived in a small flat in Bermondsey, would travel to Nigeria and lure women from rural towns with promises of a better life in Europe.
Iyamu enlisted the help of a voodoo priest to put them through a ‘Juju’ ceremony – a ritual designed to exert control over the women – before shipping them off to a gang in Germany.
They were forced to drink blood containing worms, eat chicken hearts, have their skin cut with razor blades and made to take an oath not to try to escape or tell the police and repay the debt.
They were threatened with serious harm to them or their families if they broke the oath.
The girls were then forced into prostitution in Germany to pay back the debt of between 30,000 and 38,000 euros that Iyamu had charged for shipping them from Africa.
One of the victims said: “She promised me that when I came to Germany she would take care of me. I would not want for anything, she would always be there for me.
“It was not easy. I would always start from 3 o’clock in the afternoon to 6 o’clock in the morning.
“She would call me to say she needed money. She does not know if I have enough to eat, she does not care about me.
“She only wants money, money.”
Iyamu and her husband were arrested by National Crime Agency officers after they landed at Heathrow airport on a flight from Lagos on August 24, 2017.
Following a ten week trial, a jury at Birmingham Crown Court convicted her of modern slavery offences and perverting the course of justice, on June 28.
Her conviction is the first successful prosecution of a British national under the Modern Slavery Act involving victims who have no connection to the UK, but have been victimised by a UK national.
Women’s rights organisation, Equality Now, say that current prostitution laws in the UK force women underground where they are in danger of encountering people like Iyamu.
An Equality Now spokeswoman said: “Sadly, this case is just one of many.
The NCA reported 1612 instances of women and girls trafficked in the UK for sexual exploitation in 2017, although these just represent the offences recorded by police and the true number is likely to be far higher.
We hope a successful conviction will lead to more perpetrators being arrested and prosecuted.
“Nigerian women and girls make up a substantial percentage of those trafficked into Europe’s prostitution industry.
In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration recorded more than 11,000 women and girls victims in Italy, some en-route to other European countries.
“We call for the decriminalization and support of those selling sex, and for the criminalization of those exploiting people in prostitution – traffickers, pimps and brothel owners – as well as buyers who fuel the sex trade and sex trafficking.
Where the prostitution industry is legalized, as the case with Germany, this increases the occurrence and risk of sex trafficking.”
The NCA began investigating Iyamu in July 2017 after the German Polizei identified one of her victims and recovered evidence pointing to her being the ringleader of a network trafficking vulnerable women.
They tracked down Iyamu, known to her victims as Madam Sandra, to a small flat in Bermondsey, South London, where she was working as a nurse.
Iyamu often travelled to Europe and spent long periods of time in Nigeria where she owned a large house in Benin City with servant’s quarters.
Forensic analysis confirmed that one of Iyamu’s phones was used regularly to make and receive calls and messages from her victims in Germany.
The women later explained she would ring to remind them how much they owed and threaten them into paying.
While she was remanded in custody, Iyamu made attempts to trace and intimidate the victims and their families, together with bribing law enforcement officers, into proving her innocence.
NCA Operations Manager, Kay Mellor said: “Josephine Iyamu is a calculated individual who used her apparent status as a rich, powerful and influential lady to intimidate and manipulate vulnerable women.
“With zero regard for their safety and wellbeing, she sent them via dangerous routes to Germany and forced them to work in brothels to fund her own lifestyle.
“To her, these women were not human beings seeking a better life. They were merely a commodity which she could exploit to generate income for herself.
“I commend the bravery of the five women who came forward and recounted the abuse they suffered. Thanks to them, Iyamu will no longer pose a threat to others.
Iyamu will be sentenced tomorrow.
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