The Romanian gipsy and the
teenage daughter he sent to beg on Britain’s streets
By Sue Reid
Last updated at 7:58 AM on 28th June 2010
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Standing on their front door step, the Stancius look a close and caring family. The older children pose politely by their parents, Iuri and Lucica, while the younger ones nudge one another and giggle at the sight of the camera.
In the middle of this happy family gathering is Eva, a demurely dressed teenager, her swirling skirt touching her ankles and dark hair pulled back from her handsome face.
Yet appearances are not what they seem. Her father, Iuri, has just returned to the family's humble Romanian home after two years in a British jail.
Stolen childhood: Eva Stanciu with her father luri, who was convicted for child trafficking
Stolen childhood: Eva Stanciu, pictured in early June with her father luri, who was convicted for child trafficking. He had even sent Eva to England to become a street beggar
He was convicted of the most horrible crime imaginable: trafficking his daughter, Eva, into Britain - and then forcing her to become a street beggar.
During the cold winter, the 13-year-old Roma gipsy girl would perch shivering on an upturned plastic bucket outside a Co-op store in Farnborough just a few miles from Slough which has become a magnet for thousands of East European migrants.
There, she begged for money from passers-by, telling them in her pitiful English that she was hungry and cold. If they refused her, Eva often burst into tears.
At the charity shop opposite, the staff felt so sorry they gave her a donated wool coat to wear. The Hot Oven Bakers nearby took pity, too, bringing her cups of tea and sausage rolls.
After five weeks, in January 2008, local police rescued the teenager and put her into state care. Eva's plight was only discovered during a huge police search for trafficked Romanian children in Slough.
Officers raided 17 houses - including the one where Eva lived with a cousin, Claudia Stoica, who distributed the Big Issue magazine, sold on the streets by homeless people.
To their horror, the Scotland Yard officers found that these terrace houses were filled with children who had been trafficked to Britain to beg, pickpocket, milk state benefits and even enter the sex trade.
The inspector in charge said the boys and girls were pawns in a 'highly organised criminal network, originating in Romania, which brought them to this country to commit crime'.
'Houses were filled with children who had been trafficked to Britain to beg, pickpocket, milk state benefits and even enter the sex trade'
In an emergency House of Commons debate a few weeks later, MP Anthony Steen (who has since retired) estimated that there were 2,000 Romanian modern-day Fagins in Britain.
Children were, he said, controlled by trafficking gangs who treated them with 'blood-curdling cruelty' by forcing them to commit crime.
'The children are smuggled through Europe, or are simply flown into the UK with two adults posing as their parents.
'They have been sold by their family to the gangs to pay off debts.
'A talented criminally active child can earn approximately £100,000 a year,' he told the House.
Since that speech, thousands more children have been trafficked from Romania on to the streets of Britain, say international charities, such as Unicef.
Huge numbers of the youngsters come from Tandarei, a small town of 15,000 people, 100 miles from Bucharest towards the Black Sea coast. Here, 2,000 Roma gipsies like the Stanciu family live in a rundown neighbourhood.
Outside in the street there are potholed dusty roads, gipsy carts pulled by ponies, and laughing children play naked with the communal hose pipes which provide the town's only water supply.
Enlarge The Stanciu family from Tandarei: A crime wave started when Romania joined the EU in January 2007, opening up borders between the former Communist nation and western Europe
The Stanciu family from Tandarei: A crime wave started when Romania joined the EU in January 2007, opening up borders between the former Communist nation and western Europe
Yet dotted around the gipsy quarter are scores of glitzy, palatial new homes. With stone pillars at their grand entrances and deep gravel drives, these million-pound mansions dominate the skyline.
Shiny BMWs and Land Rovers sporting British number plates are parked outside many. These pockets of wealth are the spoils of a crime wave which started when Romania joined the EU in January 2007, opening up borders between the former Communist nation and western Europe.
In the first six months of that year, more than 1,000 offences of fraud and theft involving Romanians were recorded in London - compared with 168 in the whole of 2006.
Many crimes were by child thieves trafficked from Tandarei - where on April 8 this year 300 police officers from Scotland Yard and the European police force, Europol, started an investigation to crack down on child traffickers.
At dawn, police helicopters whirred overhead and every exit road out of the gipsy quarter was blocked to seal in the gang leaders. By breakfast time, 17 alleged traffickers had been arrested, suspected of making millions of pounds by smuggling 168 children to Slough and London.
With nicknames such as ' Millionaire', 'The Executioner', 'Gipsy King' and 'The General', the men now await trial in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. In their homes, the police found guns, gold bullion, wads of British £50 notes, jewellery, and false UK passports with children's pictures on them.
Their flash cars were towed away by police to Bucharest for forensic analysis. As one Romanian police officer in Tandarei told the Mail this week: 'The gipsy Mr Bigs became a dangerous mafia after Romania became an EU nation.
'These ruthless men have got rich quick buying children from poor gipsies and trafficking them to Britain for fraud and crime.
'The raid was deliberately high profile to send a message to the Roma community that they must stop selling their children to traffickers.'
In 2008 MP Anthony Steen (who has since retired) estimated that there were 2,000 Romanian modern-day Fagins in Britain
In 2008 MP Anthony Steen (who has since retired) estimated that there were 2,000 Romanian modern-day Fagins in Britain
The trading of children is now so sophisticated that Nicolas, an undercover police agent who infiltrated the Tandarei gipsy gangs, told the Mail that legal contracts are signed between a family selling a child and the trafficker taking control of the youngster.
'It is a formal business arrangement. A trafficker will pay £20,000 for each child because of the huge sums he can get back. He arranges for the child to go for a "holiday" with relatives in England.
'They are smuggled into your country as a visitor and stay in the homes of trafficking gangs in Slough, London, Manchester or any of the big cities.
'The children may be given a false name and bogus birth certificate. Many are moved around the country frequently, using the bogus identity papers to make multiple claims for child benefit.
'The cash each child "earns" is wired back through money transfer offices, Western Union or MoneyGram, to the Mr Bigs in Tandarei,' said Nicolas. The children still keep arriving.
In Slough, 88 youngsters - some of the teenage girls already married and pregnant - turned up on the town council steps in the first four months after Romania joined the EU. They were, apparently, without any adult companions and all were illiterate. And last year alone, the council says 227 children turned up.
Yet, when school started in September, only 55 of the youngsters arrived for lessons. The rest had already disappeared into the network of terrace houses crammed full of child Fagins, just like Eva.
So, what is the truth about this gipsy girl and her family? Iuri, 45, is now a convicted criminal, found guilty of trafficking, child cruelty and exploitation.
His conviction in October 2008 was the first under the Immigration Act 2004, which was aimed at cracking down on people trafficking to Britain. At his trial at Reading Crown Court, the jury decided that he had allowed Eva to be treated as a slave, deprived of food and forced to beg on the streets, in thin clothes and freezing conditions, for ten hours a day.
Busoic Vasile, the 22-year-old cousin who flew her from Bucharest, was also found guilty of trafficking. Iuri's two remaining cousins, Marin Vasile, 34, and Stoica, 36, were convicted of exploiting Eva by driving her to towns near Slough to beg under the pretence of selling the Big Issue magazine.
The court was told the idea of sending Eva to the UK was dreamed up by her mother, Lucica, 44, and her jobless husband. They claimed they were struggling to feed their 12 children (aged between five and 28) on Romanian state benefits of £50 a month.
Huge numbers of the trafficked youngsters come from Tandarei, a small town of 15,000 people, 100 miles from Bucharest towards the Black Sea coast
Perhaps not surprisingly, Iuri and his cousins have always denied trafficking Eva or selling her to a trafficker. And at the Stancius' three bedroom flat-roofed house in the heart of the Tandarei gipsy quarter, he and his wife remained unrepentant this week as they sat with their brood of children.
It was there that I asked them why they sent young Eva away to become a street beggar. Lucica says: 'My husband has cousins in Slough who sell the Big Issue. I thought it was good for Eva to go for a holiday to them for four months.
'It was all so innocent. It was meant to be fun for her.'
Whatever the truth of this, in early December 2007, 13-year-old Eva found herself in a wintry Slough. Soon her life had become miserable.
Every day she was sent begging on Camp Road in Farnborough, where she was dropped off by car by her cousin, Marin.She always carried a pile of Big Issue magazines, although it turned out that these were hopelessly out of date.
'It was all so innocent. It was meant to be fun for her'
In police statements prepared for Iuri's trial, one Farnborough garage owner said: 'This girl was causing a permanent obstruction outside the entrance to the Post Office, trying to sell the Big Issue for between £2 and £5 each, while begging for spare change from the public.
'She would beg outside the Post Office six days a week Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm.' It is a version of events that does not tally with Eva's own. She insists that, short of money, she stole a few old copies of the Big Issue from her cousin's house where they were stored.
The police were clearly not so sure. In their search for trafficked children in Slough in January 2008, they took away Eva and nine other youngsters - including a one-year-old - to try to establish if they had been trafficked or badly treated. The rest were later returned to their homes, but the police were so worried about Eva they handed her over to social services.
It was then that Iuri, in Tandarei, got a call from England. 'The social worker told me they had Eva and I should come and get her, saying I could bring her back to Romania and I would not be arrested. But she lied to me.
'At Iuri's trial for child cruelty, exploitation and trafficking, Eva was made to give evidence against him, and he and his three cousins were convicted and jailed. Iuri was sentenced to four years, reduced to two for good behaviour.
He was deported from Britain in February and flew back to Romania on a ticket paid for by the British State. Eva was waiting for him, with the rest of the family. She was also flown home - at British taxpayers' expense - to her mother in December 2008, two months after her father began his jail sentence.
Lucica is still insisting her daughter was not trafficked: 'I have 12 children and may have more in the future. If I wanted a fortune, I would take them all to Britain and say I was homeless.
'I would get thousands of pounds a year in benefits and a big house from your government.' Then she adds with certainty: 'But after what has happened to our family I will never send another child to Britain.'
Of course, with such a cynical view of this country's benevolence to unemployed foreigners, it remains to be seen whether she sticks to this promise.