Gangmaster launches £3.7 million libel claim against Guardian

Gangmaster Andris Tiltnieks has launched an extraordinary £3.7 million libel claim against the publishers of The Guardian.

The writ, which he has issued himself, relates to an investigation the Guardian published in August last year about the living conditions of Bulgarian workers.

The Guardian said that it stands by the story and would be willing to defend the case if the claim had not already been suspended by the High Court last year.

A spokesman said: “This case has been stayed by the High Court and cannot go forward without the court’s permission. We believe that we acted responsibly in preparing the story, and that the allegations made are in the public interest. Should the stay ever be lifted, we will be defending these proceedings robustly.”

Tiltnieks claims that a story from last August, headed ‘Misery at bottom of supermarket supply chain”, was defamatory.

He is taking on the publishers without the benefit of a legal team behind him and blames the story for financial losses he suffered after publication, according to a High Court writ.

The story claimed his company, Baltic Work Team, illegally employed and exploited Bulgarian workers, who were forced to live like pigs on scraps, scavenging vegetables from fields where they worked, and were housed in dirty caravans. The story also claimed that workers had not been paid for 34 days, and that Baltic Work Team had its gangmaster licence revoked for abuses of employment law.

He alleges that contrary to the story, his workers were all self employed, and lived in caravans bought in 2003, and were paid every 30 days, he says. All deductions from their wages had been base around self employment regulations, and had received their official consent.

Tiltnieks, of Pemboa Farm, Helston, Cornwall, says his business Baltic Work Team had a turnover of £1 million a year, making annual profits of £100,000, and that he has lost its value of £2 million. This sum, he says, includes lost reputation, lost supply contacts, lost partners, lost team of 90 workers, lost turnover, and lost profit.

The company’s other business was in fish product manufacturing, and he has lost projected profits of £1.7 million over the next three years from this, he claims.

He argues that he and his solicitor could not reply to the Guardian with the 24 hours the paper required. Tiltnieks says his case became a show trial and he lost his contracts with UK farmers, as well as with contractors in Cornwall, Scotland, London, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The writ was issued by Tiltnieks in person.

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