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The ice cream slavery case

A five year investigation

Thousands of Bristolians and tourists have bought ice creams from Lopresti ice cream vans at iconic city landmarks over the decades.

For an equally long time rumours spread about their notoriety as employers and landlords. In an investigation by the Cable spanning five years that led to Modern Day Slavery charges, these rumours have been investigated and a shocking story uncovered.

Now with reporting restrictions lifted, the Cable can reveal there were men living like slaves under Salvatore Lopresti’s control, and a trail of workers and tenants exploited by the Lopresti ice cream and property business. Having had enough of living in fear, poverty and indignity, these same people spoke out.

The full story

Lopresti ice cream boss and landlord exposed

When Jakub*, a Polish tiler, moved to Bristol in 2008 he looked forward to a prosperous and secure life. But it wasn’t just work that pulled him westward, Jakub joined his wife who had already moved to the city.

But what he found wasn’t regular employment, and he wasn’t alone in answering the same advert.

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Speaking out

A litany of allegations

Salvatore Lopresti’s abusive behaviour caught up with him. These are some of the people that spoke out.

Key locations

Stories of a business built on exploitation

Millions in unsafe properties and pennies for workers in ice cream monopoly

  • Bristol
  • Portishead
  • Clevedon
  • Yatton
  • Congresbury
  • Nailsea
  • Filton
  • Bradley Stoke
  • Kingswood
  • Keynsham
  • Abbots Leigh
  • Walton in Gordano
  • Weston in Gordano
  • Portbury
  • Wraxall
  • Flax Bourton
  • Backwell
  • Long Ashton
  • Barrow Gurney
  • Hallen
  • Easter Compton
  • Over
  • Stoke Gifford
  • Warmley
  • Webbs Heath
  • North Common
  • Oldland Common
  • Saltford
  • Patchway
  • Little Stoke
  • Brentry
  • Henbry
  • Southmead
  • Westbury-on-Trym
  • Horfield
  • Henleaze
  • Westbury Park
  • Redland
  • Clifton
  • Avonmouth
  • St Werburghs
  • Eastville
  • Frenchay
  • Fishponds
  • Downend
  • Mangotsfield
  • Staple Hill
  • St George
  • Broadmead
  • Hotwells
  • Bedminster
  • Knowle
  • Totterdown
  • Whitchurch
  • Dundry

“Salvatore Lopresti said he would ‘take my door off’ and finally that he would ‘take my head off’”

Location: 2 Highland Crescent

A tenant at this property told the Cable that one day, “Salvatore Lopresti woke me up by banging loudly on my bedroom door after another illegal visit to the property. He had someone with him and tried to intimidate me because I refused to pay extra gas and electric money over Christmas as I’m a student and went home for five weeks, and was therefore not using anything.

“I told him firmly that he needed to send me a letter if he wished to contact me about anything, he replied by telling me I could ‘fuck off’. After I bit back at him (with no swearing or direct threats) he said he would ‘take my door off’ and finally that he would ‘take my head off’.”

“I worked on average 10 hours a day from 09:00–19:00. I was always paid a standard rate of £20”

Location: Circular Road, near Sea Walls, The Downs
Status: As of April 2019, this pitch is no longer operated by Lopresti and Sons ice cream.

A former worker, Ricardo, told the Cable in a statement: “I worked on average 10 hours a day from 09:00–19:00. I was always paid a standard rate of £20 for the day plus 5% commission on any sales that I made. On most days I would make £20 as standard payment and £5 in commission of ice cream sold bringing my total daily income on average to between £20 and £25.” Ricardo was paid on average £2.50 an hour.

“If we called about an issue with the house they would often become aggressive to try and intimidate us and get us to drop the complaint”

Location: 11 Brighton Road
Owned by: Salvatore Lopresti

Between 2014 and 2015, five friends from university shared this house. Speaking to the Cable, one of the tenants said: “If we called about an issue with the house they would often become aggressive to try and intimidate us and get us to drop the complaint. This became worse the more consistently we complained.

“My housemate called about damp in the house and they blamed her and shouted at her for not keeping the room clean. I called as the bed they provided was broken and Mr [Salvatore] Lopresti went off on a rant about how we had no respect, asked where I was from and then replied with the memorable phrase: “If you’re not careful, I’m going to send you back to [Redacted for anonymity].

“Aside from that Mr [Salvatore] Lopresti would always let himself into the house without giving us any notice (the contract said he had to give 24 hours). Occasionally we would just bump into him in the living room.”

“I backed into the corridor, and he kept jabbing me and punching me”

Location: 23 Brighton Road

A tenant at this property told the Cable: “One day, he turned up at the door maybe two weeks into us living there. He tried to get in but I wouldn’t let him in. So he just started jabbing me in the side of the arm and keeps on doing it and starts calling me ‘the biggest cunt’ he’d ever met.

“I did think about hitting him back, but then I thought there is no witnesses here, and to hit an old man, even in self defense, because it takes a second to fuck up your whole life. So I backed into the corridor, and he kept jabbing me and punching me, as hard as he could for an old bloke. It was like someone who thinks they are untouchable, someone who thinks they are the hardest dude around, like no one is going to mess with him because of his crew.”

“Salvatore would just shout at you all the time”

Location: Circular Road/Ladies Mile, The Downs
Status: As of April 2019, this pitch is no longer operated by Lopresti and Sons ice cream.

A former worker, Richard, told the Cable he was paid well below the minimum wage while working at this location and was mistreated by Salvatore Lopresti. “He [Salvatore Lopresti] would just shout at you all the time and kind of hit you a bit and have a go at you for every little thing. He shouted at me once, and asked ‘Where were you?’ And I was like ‘I just went to the toilet.’ ‘Yeah, well couldn’t you go earlier?’ he said. ‘There were people here.’ ‘Yeah but I needed to go to the toilet’. He was like ‘Why are you answering back?’”

“He started shouting at me and told me to sit down”

Location: Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol side
Status: As of April 2019, this pitch is no longer operated by Lopresti Ice Creams

A former worker, Simon, told the Cable that he regularly worked 7.5 hour shifts at this location. He said in a statement: “On most days I would make £20 as standard payment and £5 in commission of ice cream sold, bringing my total daily income on average to between £20 and £25.” This works out at £3.33 per hour.

On one occasion he said: “It was a cold day and there were not any customers around so I closed the sliding window. Sam [Salvatore] Lopresti arrived and was not happy that I shut the window. He started shouting at me and told me to “sit down”. There was nowhere to sit other than on the floor of the trailer so I said: "No, I’m not going to sit down, I’m not your dog. I’m not your slave." He gave me more orders to sit down on the floor which I refused.

No repairs, no deposit

Location: 123 Barrow Road
Owned by: Roberto Lopresti

A tenant at this property told the Cable: “The landlord [Robert Lopresti] would not do anything that needed to be done. There were huge gaps underneath all the windows, in winter I had to put sheets of plastic up, the end wall all year long was running with water so all cloths went mildew and had to be thrown away.

“I came home from work one day to find that he had dumped an old car in the back garden, could not even sit outside, another day he had torn up the front garden and there was a beaten up old van that had no tax on. All rent had to be paid in cash at the shop and not into a bank account.

“When I told him I had enough and was leaving, he agreed to meet me in the property to collect the keys and sort the deposit out, he never arrived so I rang him and he told me to leave the keys in the flat and he would contact me regards the deposit, I never heard a thing.”

Cable undercover journalist confirms wage exploitation

Location: Prince Street Bridge near M-Shed
Status: This pitch continues to be operated by Lopresti and Sons ice cream.

An undercover Cable journalist worked shifts selling ice cream at this location. He was paid on average £3.42 per hour in cash.

In 2017, after the initial publication of the Cable investigation based on this evidence and other testimony from workers, the name ‘Lopresti’ was removed from ice cream vans across the city.

Worked for 55p a hour, 6.5 half days a week for years

Location: Ashton Court
Status: As of April 2019, this pitch is no longer operated by Lopresti and Sons ice cream.

This is one of the locations a man known as ‘A’ worked. In an interview with the Cable, A said that he would regularly work nine hours a day, six and a half days a week for £105. £75 was directly deducted by Salvatore Lopresti as a charge to stay in a ice cream van storage shed behind the Bedminster Parade shop. This left A with £30 to pay for food and electricity. After being charged for rent, A’s pay worked out as little as 55p per hour.

HQ of Salvatore Lopresti’s ice cream and property business and where alleged victim of Modern Day Slavery and ‘A’ lived and worked

Location: 70 Bedminster Parade
Owned by: Salvatore Lopresti

Acting on Cable information, the police investigated the company’s HQ. In October 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service charged Salvatore, 75, and son Robert Lopresti, 45, with forced labour, contrary to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The charges against Robert Lopresti were eventually dropped. Salvatore Lopresti was later diagnosed with vascular dementia and ruled unfit to stand trial. A Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order was placed on Salvatore Lopresti, banning him from employment activities indefinitely, the first of its kind in the Avon and Somerset police area.

It was also at this site where a man known as ‘A’ lived and worked.

In an interview with the Cable, A said that he would regularly work nine hours a day, six and a half days a week for £105. £75 was directly deducted by Salvatore Lopresti as a charge to stay in a ice cream van storage shed behind the Bedminster Parade shop. This left A with £30 to pay for food and electricity. After being charged for rent, A’s pay worked out as little as 55p per hour.

“Salvatore Lopresti then came round and threatened to kill us, at this point we just left the flat as I was terrified”

Location: 7 Henry Street, Totterdown
Owned by: Salvatore Lopresti

A tenant at this property told the Cable: “We rented a flat off him in totterdown. He [Salvatore Lopresti] hadn't split the property correctly and when the gas was cut off he said it was our job to collect the money off the other tenants. We didn’t. He then came round and threatened to kill us, at this point we just left the flat as I was terrified.”

“Salvatore said I should remember that I had a child and we wouldn't like to see her sleeping under a bridge”

Location: Greville Smyth Park
Status: This pitch continues to be operated by Lopresti and Sons ice cream.

A former tenant and worker of Lopresti, Anna, told the Cable that she worked for nine hours a day selling ice creams and received £20 in pay, averaging £2.22 per hour. Anna said: “Abuse was constant, they always called people names, shouted, and didn't let you leave the van to use the toilet.”

When Anna complained about the working conditions, Salvatore Lopresti threatened to evict her family from the house, saying that she “should remember that [she] had a child and we wouldn't like to see her sleeping under a bridge”. Anna said that Robert Lopresti added that she should be careful, because he knew what school her daughter went to.

Robert Lopresti said “I should be careful, as he knew what school our daughter attended”

Location: 21 Harrowdene Road
Owned by: Salvatore Lopresti

A former tenant and worker of Lopresti, Anna, told the Cable she worked for nine hours a day selling ice creams and received £20 in pay, averaging £2.22 per hour, saying that “abuse was constant, they always called people names, shouted, and didn't let you leave the van to use the toilet”.

When Anna complained about the working conditions, Salvatore Lopresti threatened to evict her family from the house, saying that she “should remember that [she] had a child and we wouldn't like to see her sleeping under a bridge”. Anna said that Robert Lopresti added that she should be careful, because he knew what school her daughter went to.

Anna said: “The walls of the flat sweated and dripped continuously, being wet and sticky, there was leaks from the ceiling, apparently from the top floor flat shower, and basically we stayed there because we had no more options.”

A story unfolds

Past articles

Investigations began in 2014, with various twists and turns and an extended period of reporting restrictions between 2017 - 2019.

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The story is not over, but the Lopresti family business has been exposed and people have escaped horrible conditions.

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