Announcement follows the Cable’s investigation and police action into the notorious landlords and businessmen.
UPDATE 02.09.19: The council have now informed the Cable that they have now revoked ice cream pitches from Salvatore and Robert Lopresti. A council spokesperson said that the Public Safety and Protection Committee decided that “that they were not suitable people to hold a consent”
The landlord business of father and son Salvatore and Robert Lopresti is subject to an “urgent” investigation by the council’s housing enforcement team.
The announcement follows a Cable investigation into the family ice cream and property rental businesses that resulted in a police investigation and criminal proceedings being brought against the duo.
The investigation, spanning five years, found men living in slave-like conditions under the control of Salvatore and underpayment of the minimum wage in the ice cream business. In a portfolio of almost 30 properties there has been widespread intimidation of tenants and extreme disrepair.
Labour councillor and Cabinet member for housing Paul Smith said, “Having seen and received information uncovered by the Bristol Cable, I have instructed the council’s private rented team to conduct an investigation with urgency.
“We have a range of powers to ensure that Bristolians can live in safe and appropriate housing free from harassment and slum-like conditions at the hands of rogue landlords. There is no place for slum landlords in this city or anywhere, and we are committed to tackling this issue.”
These powers include service of legal notices, application for a rent repayment order for tenants or the issue of civil penalty notices.
Using Cable and police evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service had charged Robert and Salvatore Lopresti with modern day slavery offences with a trial date set for May 2019. In addition, the Cable evidenced that workers for the Lopresti ice cream business were routinely paid as little as £2 an hour selling ice creams at council allocated sites across key locations in the city.
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For reasons not publicly known, criminal charges were dropped against Robert Lopresti. The pending prosecution of Salvatore was halted at Bristol Crown Court when the judge accepted that the 75-year-old was unfit to stand trial due to dementia.
However the District Judge said of Salvatore Lopresti, “I’m sure that there is a risk that you will commit a human trafficking or slavery offence” and made a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order banning Salvatore from a range of business activities including managing workers.
Ice cream vans left untouched for now
However, no moves have yet been made to rescind the council permits that allow Salvatore and Robert Lopresti to continue operating ice cream vans in some of the city’s busiest tourist hotspots.
While the near-monopoly Lopresti ice cream vans had on the pitches ended in April 2019, Salvatore continues to own the pitch at Greville Smyth Park and Robert operates pitches at the M-Shed and Bush Corner at the Harbourside. Both have council contracts to operate on these sites until 2022.
Under the rules used to award the ice cream pitches, the council has the legal ability to sever contracts where actions by the business in question “has or may cause significant harm to the reputation of the council”.
Deputy-mayor and Labour councillor Craig Cheney, who has oversight of this area, was asked whether slave-like conditions and workplace exploitation was sufficient to cause the council’s reputation harm enough to terminate the Lopresti contracts.
Councillor Cheney did not respond. A council spokesperson said: “During the tender process, the panel made very clear, unbiased decisions based on the information available at that time and the submissions put forward by the applicants.”
However, at the time of the tendering decision earlier this year the council were aware that Salvatore and Robert Lopresti had been arrested and were facing charges of Modern Day Slavery. When asked whether this information played a part in the award of the tenders the council did not respond.