British cops question four men and a woman after 24 slaves were discovered living in kennels, sheds and horse boxes in one of the worst cases of modern day slavery
Twenty-four modern day slaves were released from bondage on Sunday after a pre-dawn police raid found them emaciated, hungry and living in "filthy and cramped" conditions on a caravan site in Leighton Buzzard. The men -- Poles, Romanians and Russians as well as British -- had been forced to survive in a "state of virtual slavery" at the Green Acres caravan site, according to Bedfordshire police.
The men varied in age from about 20 to 50 years old; all vulnerable men who had been recruited from homeless shelters. Some are believed to have been in captivity for 15 years.
Five people -- four men and a woman -- were arrested in the swoop on the mainly Traveller site. The raid, involving 200 officers including armed police, dog units and a police helicopter, followed a long-running undercover operation. When police arrived at the site, which is estimated to have around 10-12 family sized plots, they discovered men they believe had been coerced into forced labour.
One had dog excrement on his clothes, and many were starving, said Detective Chief Inspector Sean O'Neil, of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit, which was aided by officers from the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
He explained that the men had not received payment for physically demanding labouring jobs, were hardly fed and were given no clothes. If they complained they faced beatings.
"The men we found at the site were in a poor state of physical health and the conditions they were living in were shockingly filthy and cramped. We believe that some of them had been living and working there in a state of virtual slavery, some for just a few weeks and others for up to 15 years."
They have now been taken to a medical centre where their health is being assessed. "This was a recruitment centre where people down on their luck were brought to," said O'Neil. "They had been found in soup kitchens and benefit offices and told they would be given work, clothing, a home and food."
The men lived in unsanitary conditions, said Jo Hobbs, a spokeswoman for Bedfordshire police. "There were up to four men living in tiny and filthy caravans which were unheated, and old. They had no access to running water, no toilet and no washing facilities," she said.
Weapons, drugs and money were also found at the private site, which is thought to have been occupied by a mostly Traveller community for about 10 years.
The suspects were being held at police stations in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. "If these people arrested are found guilty they must feel the full force of the law. Courts needs to send out the message that there is no place in Britain for slavery."
Number of police officers who carried out the raid
Modern day slavery
In 2010, over 2,000 children, orphaned after the devastating earthquake in Haiti were sold as sex slaves by child traffickers