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Court of Appeal

Landmark human trafficking case sees jail sentences increased for forced prostitution

The Court of Appeal quashed the original sentence and re-sentenced both women to increased jail terms.

TWO NIGERIAN WOMEN who forced their human trafficking victims into prostitution after a “voodoo ceremony” in the first ever conviction of its type in Ireland have had their jail sentences increased by the Court of Appeal.

Alicia Edosa (46) and her co-accused Edith Enoghaghase (33) had originally pleaded not guilty to two counts of trafficking women around Ireland on dates between September 2016 and June 2018.

However, they were found guilty of the charges following a 25-day trial at Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court in June 2021 and sentenced in September of that year by Judge Francis Comerford.

The trial heard evidence from four women who claimed they were forced into prostitution in Ireland after undergoing a voodoo ceremony in their native Nigeria pledging obedience to the two women.

One woman claimed she was forced to pull the heart out of a chicken as part of the ritual where the women were made to swear they would not try to escape or speak to gardaí once in Ireland, or else they would risk harm to themselves and their families.

Another complainant was threatened by Enoghaghase that if she broke her oath of obedience “her mother would go to hell and she would roam mad”.

The complainant told the trial that she was also brought to a voodoo ceremony where her hair was shaved off. The woman was told she had to pay back €50,000 for the cost of bringing her to Ireland or else either she or her son would die.

The women had all travelled in the belief that they were going to be working as shop assistants but ended up being forced to work as prostitutes in various locations around the country including Limerick, Cork, Galway, Castlebar, Navan, Athlone, Letterkenny, Cavan and Dundalk.

The four women were told they owed the defendants sums ranging from €35,000 to €60,000 for arranging their travel to Ireland.

The two co-accused claimed that there was missing evidence in the case in that text messages from phones used by two complainants had been deleted.

Both women launched appeals against their convictions, while the State cross-appealed the sentences handed down to the women on grounds that they were unduly lenient. Edosa had also launched an appeal against the severity of her sentence.

Edosa’s counsel had told the Court of Appeal that the two complainants had handed phones over to gardai, which they said Edosa used to contact them.

However, it was later found a number of messages from the same number had been deleted from both devices, counsel argued. 

On one phone, 29 out of 101 text messages had been wiped, while it was found 27 out of 117 messages had been removed from the second phone.

Today at the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham delivered the court’s judgement dismissing the two women’s appeals.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would also quash the original sentence and re-sentence both women to increased jail terms.

Mr Justice Birmingham said “we are satisfied that the sentences actually imposed in this case did represent a substantial departure from what we consider would have been the appropriate sentences in the circumstances”.

“In fairness to the sentencing judge, he was faced with having to sentence for a new type of offence in the absence of any comparator guidelines of appellate court guidance,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.

“While we have expressed disagreement with his calibration of the gravity of the respondents’ offending conduct, we think it important to say that our recording of such disagreement does not amount to criticism of him.

“It also clearly follows from the finding of undue leniency that Ms Edosa’s cross-appeal against the severity of her sentence is being dismissed,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the trial judge had identified eight years’ imprisonment as a pre-mitigation headline sentence before allowing for previous good character, the need for rehabilitation and the personal circumstances of both women.

Mr Justice Birmingham, in re-sentencing, said the headline sentence “in each case cannot properly be less than ten years’ imprisonment, and that to fix a headline or pre-mitigation sentence less than that would amount to an error”.

“The approach of the sentencing judge was to address mitigation by reducing the headline sentence, in the first place by 25 per cent. We do not think the judge was in error in that regard, so we will reduce both headline sentences to ones of seven and a half years.

“The sentencing judge, who was particularly well placed to make an assessment of this, having presided over a six-week trial, felt it appropriate to differentiate between the two appellants to a limited extent and we will follow his lead in that regard.

“So, we will further reduce the sentence of Ms Enoghaghase by an additional five months,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would dismiss the conviction appeals on the grounds of missing evidence because it amounted to “pure speculation” on whether or not the missing text messages were “exculpatory” in nature.

“There is no further evidence to the effect that gardaí should have been put on notice of a need to carry out further investigations as a result of the telephones,” he added.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would re-sentence Edosa to seven-and-a-half years in jail and re-sentence Enoghaghase to seven years and one month imprisonment.

Ken Fogarty SC for Edosa had told the appeal hearing that Garda Paul O’Leary stated in evidence at his client’s trial that he was unable to confirm whether the messages had been deleted deliberately or not. 

Counsel said it had been incumbent on gardai “in the interests of a fair trial” to establish the content of the missing messages and this could have been done via a request to the service provider.

“The deleted messages would have had a probative value, one way or another,” he had argued.

Fiona Murphy SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), however, maintained that “no case has been made to establish that the prosecution or gardai did not seek evidence in that regard”.

She said that the jury had “carefully considered the evidence before it” before finding Edosa guilty of the charges and that there had been “no dereliction of duty” by investigating gardaí.

Thomas O’Malley SC, also for the DPP, later told the court that the sentences handed down to both women had been unduly lenient. 

Mr O’Malley said that the maximum penalty for human trafficking was life but because both respondents were the first people in this country to be convicted of the offence he would rely on comparisons with other jurisdictions in his submission. 

He said the Sentencing Council for England and Wales had recommended terms of up to 15 years for similar offences. 

Mr O’Mallley said the victims in this case had been treated as “chattel” by both women and the appropriate term would be in the “upper-echelons” of the middle range of a 15-year term.

Regarding the prostitution offences, he said a sentence between seven to 10 years would have been a more suitable penalty.

“The sentences imposed were simply unduly lenient,” Mr O’Malley said, adding that one very important mitigating factor had been absent in both cases and that had been a plea of guilty.

Edosa and Enoghaghase were convicted of two counts of trafficking a person other than a child contrary to the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, as well as one count of organisation of prostitution contrary to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act.

Edosa, formerly of Market Point, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, was also found guilty of 34 counts of money laundering offences, contrary to Section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2020 and was originally jailed for five years and eight months overall.

Enoghaghase, formerly of Meeting House Lane, Mullingar, was also convicted of four counts of money laundering and was originally jailed for five years and one month.