There is evidence suggesting Salvatore Lopresti, the local businessman and landlord accused of ruthlessly exploiting workers and tenants for decades, may be breaching an anti-slavery court order made against him, a Cable investigation using CCTV and surveillance has found.
UPDATE: As of 17.10.19 Salvatore Lopresti has now been interviewed by Avon and Somerset Police. A police source has stated that no further action will be taken at this time.
In May 2019, Salvatore Lopresti, 75, was due to face Modern Day Slavery charges at Bristol Crown Court. The charges followed a Cable investigation spanning five years, which relied on dozens of sources and a reporter going undercover in the well-known family business.
The investigation, and a subsequent police operation, found men under Lopresti’s control being paid pennies per hour to do gruelling work for years on end and living in exposed outhouses that were found to be unfit for human habitation just off Bedminster Parade. Many others who worked for the prominent local ice cream business were paid well below the minimum wage, and tenants in his large property portfolio complained of intimidation and horrible conditions.
The slavery prosecution was discontinued following a dementia diagnosis for Lopresti, meaning that he was legally unfit to stand trial for charges that could have seen him sent down for years, if found guilty. Recognising that Lopresti still posed a threat, Avon and Somerset police sought a legal order that would prohibit him from a range of activities. In issuing the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO), the first in the police force area, the Judge said: “I’m sure that there is a risk that you will commit a human trafficking or slavery offence,” and warned that it would be a criminal offence to breach the orders’ conditions.
In recognition that workers would be at risk of exploitation under Lopresti’s control, one of the conditions was the indefinite ban on Lopresti “directing or supervising the day-to-day activities of staff”.
Now, CCTV footage and a surveillance operation conducted by the Cable indicates a possible breach of this condition and grounds for the police to investigate further.
Responding to these allegations, a lawyer representing Salvatore Lopresti said: “Since the making of the STRO [Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order] Mr Lopresti has complied with, and continues to comply with, each and every term of the order and the publication of any suggestion to the contrary will be regarded by the family as libellous.”
An Avon and Somerset police spokesperson said: “I can confirm that we have received information and will be carrying out enquiries to establish whether there has been a breach of the court order.”
The Cable has obtained CCTV from a Bristol restaurant favoured by Lopresti. Combing through the footage, which spans two months after the STRO was made by the court, Lopresti is captured on multiple occasions arriving and leaving with two men who have been identified as workers in the Lopresti ice cream and property business.
Caught on camera
One man, Daniel*, is known to work in Lopresti ice cream vans that have been a common sight across the city. The other man James*, appears with Lopresti on seven different occasions and is understood to carry out repairs on the dozens of Bristol properties owned and rented out by Lopresti. The footage suggests these are far from social visits. James is often seen wearing workman’s overalls and rather than sit in the restaurant he takes his drink to sit and wait in Lopresti’s van while Lopresti finishes off his wine or beer.
While the CCTV indicates that Lopresti may be involved in the “directing or supervising the day-to-day activities of staff” which would be a breach of the court order, further corroboration was needed. A surveillance operation conducted by the Cable has gathered more evidence to this effect. This is a record of our findings.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity
Case notes on a possible court order breach
By using a log of Lopresti’s properties and speaking to sources, a south Bristol address has been identified as James’s home. James hasn’t done anything wrong, but we want to find out where he lives so we can monitor his relationship with Lopresti and possibly speak to him.
A Cable journalist knocks at the door. James opens but doesn’t want to speak to us. He insists that he is contracted to Lopresti’s wife. This confirms that he still works for the business, and lives in this property whose ownership was recently transferred from Salvatore to his wife.
Sitting close by to Lopresti’s large Long Ashton house, we pick up his wine-coloured Ford Transit and follow him to Stillhouse Lane, the location of the ice cream business’s warehouse, just behind Bedminster Parade. This was the location where two men were held in slave-like conditions by Salvatore Lopresti and paid less than a pound an hour. The Crown Prosecution Service alleged that one man, a Polish national, was held in conditions of forced labour from 2009-2016 and was also assaulted here.
Shortly after arriving, Daniel, one of the men identified with Lopresti in the CCTV, is seen leaving the Stillhouse Lane warehouse driving a Lopresti ice cream van, confirming that he is still involved with the business. We follow the van to Eastville Park where he sets up to sell ice cream. The Cable has spoken to many people who have worked in these ice cream vans over the years. Every one has complained of being paid no more than £3.50 an hour, including the Cable’s undercover reporter.
We have a possible address for Daniel and want to confirm he lives there without giving ourselves away. A Cable journalist knocks on the door and then walks around the corner. Daniel opens the door in full view of another Cable journalist standing across the road.
This property was recently transferred to Salvatore’s wife. We now know that both James and Daniel still live in properties owned by members of the family.
Daniel is again seen working in the same ice cream van at Eastville Park. The council later confirm that the Lopresti ice cream business does not have rights to operate at this location. A council spokesperson said that all council owned pitches operated by the Lopresti business have been revoked due to the exploitation of workers as revealed by the Cable in May 2019. For the previous five years, Lopresti vans had a near monopoly on sites across Bristol, now they have none but this van is continuing to operate.
A member of the public calls the Cable office. He says he can see Lopresti apparently supervising a worker at one of his properties. A Cable reporter rushes to the scene but they’re gone by the time he arrives. Information like this from the public has been vital to the investigation over the years.
Salvatore Lopresti is sitting in the ice cream warehouse on Stillhouse Lane. Shortly after, Daniel arrives, and drives Salvatore in his van to his Long Ashton home.
Both men are photographed in Salvatore’s garage. Lopresti, who is known to severely underpay workers, opens the garage to reveal two luxury cars with personalised license plates; A 1978 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and a 1997 Ferrari Spider.
With Daniel driving, both men proceed back towards the city. Due to an unusual route and erratic driving through residential roads in the Ashton Gate area we suspect our cover has been blown and peel off. Shortly after, the men are seen pulling into the ice cream warehouse at Stillhouse Lane.
An unknown male drives Lopresti to Daniel’s address. Lopresti is photographed entering the property and leaving shortly after. The unknown male and Lopresti drive back to Stillhouse Lane. Though this property has been legally transferred to Salvatore’s wife, this suggests that Salvatore is still the acting landlord of Daniel. If true, this could breach another anti-slavery order condition; the prohibition on Lopresti accomadating staff who work in the business.
Daniel is again seen leaving the Stillhouse Lane ice cream warehouse driving an ice cream van.
Daniel and Salvatore are at Stillhouse Lane preparing Lopresti’s van. We follow Salvatore’s van to Daniel’s address where Daniel loads up building materials and scaffolding planks while Lopresti waits. They then drive back to the Stillhouse Lane and unload.
Daniel pulls out of Stillhouse Lane, drives in an ice cream van to Eastville Park, and sets up by the playing area for another stint selling ice creams.