“I regret I was not one of the persons brave enough to face them when it happened to me and another two members of my family.”
More workers have come forward with information about the Lopresti businesses’s behaviour as landlords and employers. This follows Cable revelations about underpayment of the minimum wage by the Bedminster ice cream business. The company is owned by the family of Tory MP for Filton and Abbey Wood, Jack Lopresti.
Now, the Cable has received testimonies and complaints from former Lopresti employees spanning a period of decades. They repeat allegations about criminally low wages and abusive working conditions, but also tell of the appalling standard of rented accommodation. So far, however, the council is yet to act.
This is the story of Margarita* and her family.
“I regret I was not one of the persons brave enough to face them when it happened to me and another two members of my family”, said Margarita, “but I had a lot to lose at that time and they are good at threatening.”
In search “of a better life”, Margarita left Spain to the UK with her husband and daughter in 2012. They quickly discovered it was not as easy as they thought it would be to find work and a place to live.
“No one wanted to rent us a place because we had no references in the country, and that’s how we ended up in Lopresti’s game… they basically rent their properties to the people they employ, so they recover the money they have paid you, and when you want to leave the selling ice cream job they threaten to kick you off the property.”
The family-run ice cream company also run a property-letting business, with at least 13 properties across Bristol. Margarita and her husband both worked selling ice cream, while living in Lopresti-owned flats in 2012 and 2013. These flats are still owned by members of the Lopresti family.
“Basically everything reduces to [them] taking advantage of people in precarious situation… all of us working for him were immigrants recently arrived in the country and with no idea on how things worked…..They offer you a job (you don’t have a clue of what minimum wages are when you first get there) and a flat without references, and you accept.”
Margarita says she and her husband were each paid £20 per day plus 5% of sales, well below the minimum wage. This was the case with the three former workers interviewed for the first report.
In 2013, following a disagreement over who should paint her flat, business owners and managers Sam (Salvatore) and Robert Lopresti also allegedly threatened Margarita and her family.
According to Margarita, Sam Lopresti said that, “I should remember that I had a child and we wouldn’t like to see her sleeping under a bridge.” Robert Lopresti who was also present, allegedly told her “to be careful as he knew what school our daughter attended”.
The “abuse was constant” said Margarita. “They always called people names, shouted, didn’t let you leave the [ice cream] van to use the toilet.”
Just as the Cable’s undercover reporter had recorded when working at the business, Margarita said payment was “always cash in hand for everything… Cash in hand to pay the rent, to get our wages, there was never a proof of the wages they owed you. I continuously requested a receipt of the payment of my rent which they usually refused to give me.”
To make matters worse, the family’s flat had “black mould and dripping walls”. The tipping point which led to them leaving came when “one night, while my daughter was already sleeping and I was reading in bed, one rat crossed the room like if it was nothing… I couldn’t keep exposing my daughter to that”.
When asked if they would be reviewing the award of ice cream licenses to the Lopresti’s, a spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “The council is responsible for administering concessions. The allegations that have been made are undoubtedly serious and we would encourage staff to report these allegations to the appropriate authority for investigation. At this stage it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”
SM Lopresti & Sons were contacted to respond to these allegations and replied only with:
“A number of issues you have raised in your last publication are incorrect. One being, mislead information of Jack Lopresti.”
The company was asked to clarify this statement. No further comment has been made.
The Cable was provided proof of tenancy between Margarita and the Lopresti business. Margarita gave a detailed account of the business, including names of former workers, properties owned and managed by the Loprestis, and other evidenced information which the Cable cross-referenced with independent interviews and official information.
* Names have been changed.