The five-strong gang – all of whom are Chinese nationals – seized six of their compatriots in London and Luton, Bedfordshire, between July 2007 and March 2009, subjecting them to terrifying ordeals in which they were tied up and beaten.
In each instance the captors demanded money, often tens of thousands of pounds, in order to secure the hostage’s release, and petrified relatives in China were sometimes contacted and ordered to pay up or see their loved one killed.
The gang, all originally from Fujian province in south-east China, were eventually caught when Metropolitan Police officers located two of their strongholds.
Following their arrests, between March and December 2009, Guo Ping Chen, Guo Chen, Bing Cheng and Guo Hai Chen pleaded guilty and were sentenced on 23 June 2010 at the Old Bailey.
Detective Sergeant Tony O’Sullivan of the Kidnap Unit, part of the Serious and Organised Crime Command, said: "This criminal network was ruthless in the way they ensnared their vulnerable victims with seemingly attractive promises of much-needed work. Once they had them captive they used serious violence and intimidation to extract whatever they could, with no regard for the physical and mental impact on the hostages and their relatives.
Detective Chief Inspector Craig Turner of the Kidnap Unit said: "These were organised and clearly dangerous individuals who have rightly faced justice for the terror they inflicted on their own community."
In January 2009, two victims were ensnared by the gang when they responded to an advertisement for restaurant workers posted on a Chinese social networking site. The bogus advert, written in Mandarin, had been placed with the specific intention of luring innocent Chinese applicants who were instructed to meet their prospective new employers in Luton, Bedfordshire.
The victims, a man and woman who did not know each other previously, were met by a man who took them to the gang’s stronghold in Hatton Place, Luton where they were bound, gagged and threatened with a knife.
The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit were first alerted to the kidnap by Greater Manchester Police, when a family in China raised concerns about the female victim, a relation of theirs from Manchester. The woman had told them she was traveling to Luton with the promise of a job in a restaurant.
Ransom payments were demanded from the captives’ relatives in China and after negotiations conducted on the telephone and by email, further demands were made to secure their release.
The investigation led officers from Manchester to Luton and finally to London. Officers from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit worked with the Kidnap Unit to assist with the investigation and conviction of the men in Luton and London.
The next victim came to the attention of police on 13 March 2009. As in the previous incident he had responded to an internet advert for restaurant workers, and met a contact called ‘Mr Lin’ before being taken unwittingly to the gang’s lair.
Once at their base he was bound and beaten by four men, and a knife was put to his throat as the captors threatened to kill him. However the victim escaped after nine hours. He made it to a nearby restaurant in Lewisham High Street with some of the bandages used to tie him up still around his neck. Employees at the restaurant flagged down a nearby police car to assist.
Officers were later able to confirm that the hostage had been taken to a property in Romborough Way, SE13.
On 23 March, in an apparent shift in tactics, the next victim, a man, was called out of the blue by a ‘Mr Lin’ who claimed to be searching for a decorator. They agreed to meet in Peckham Rye before going to a nearby house where the captive was bound, had a hood placed over his head and was severely beaten as he was held overnight. A ransom was demanded from relatives, but the hostage managed to escape.
As he fled the stronghold, the victim noticed another man in a separate room who had been tied up and his head covered. Soon after escaping the victim alerted two nearby council wardens who contacted police. Police were quickly able to locate the property where the men had been held in Peckham Rye, SE15, however the second hostage was no longer present.
The Kidnap Unit was called in to lead the hunt for the missing captive. He was identified and found by police having managed to escape from the house in Peckham Rye after realising his captors had fled following the other prisoner’s escape.
As with the previous victim he had been seized after agreeing to meet a man who had called him in search of a decorator. When he arrived at the property in Peckham Rye he was attacked by eight men who bound, blindfolded and beat him. The victim’s wallet was taken and PIN numbers demanded, and he was beaten again when it was discovered that he had given false ones. In the end he handed over a telephone and £900.
Following this latest kidnap Guo Ping Chen and Bing Cheng were arrested during a raid in Brockley Road SE4 by the Kidnap Unit on 26 March 2009, while Guo Chen was arrested following extensive enquiries on the 6 December 2009. Guo Hai Chen was arrested on the 14 December 2009 after he had been circulated as wanted and was stopped during a routine search. Ming Yan was arrested on 26 March 2010.
1. On 8 April 2010 Guo Ping Chen, 36 (24.01.74), of Brockley Road, SE4, pleaded guilty to fifteen counts, five of kidnap, five of blackmail and five of false imprisonment. He was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on the 23 June 2010 to 15 years imprisonment on each count to run concurrently.
2. On 26 April 2010 Guo Chen, 36 (02.7.74), of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to twelve counts, four of kidnap, four of blackmail and four of false imprisonment. He was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on the 23 June 2010 to 12 years and six months imprisonment.
3. On 27 April 2010 Bing Cheng, 37 (28.12.72), of Brockley Road, SE4, pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy, 2 of kidnap, 2 of blackmail and 2 of false imprisonment. He was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on the 23 June 2010 to 10 years imprisonment on each count to run concurrently.
4. On 27 April 2010 Guo Hai Chen, 41 (26.03.69), of Studholme Street Peckham, pleaded guilty to two counts, both of false imprisonment. He was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on the 23 June 2010 to six years and eight months imprisonment.
5. On 20 October 2010 Ming Yan, 19 (02.10.91), of Brook Avenue, Wembley, pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnap and two blackmail. He was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on the 26 November 2010 to eight years imprisonment on each count to run concurrently.
All five defendants will be subject to deportation on completion of their sentence