British police rescue 'slaves' from travellers' site

12th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

British police raided a travellers' site Sunday to rescue 24 men they said had been held as slaves and forced to live in squalor, some for up to 15 years.

More than 200 officers from Bedfordshire Police entered the Green Acres caravan site in Leighton Buzzard, northwest of London, and arrested four men and one woman, all residents on the site, on suspicion of slavery offences.

Police said the freed men were mostly English, with some of eastern European origin. Detectives said they were all vulnerable -- either homeless or alcoholics -- and had been recruited by "gangmasters" offering money, the BBC reported.

Bedfordshire Police force had conducted a long-running investigation into suggestions that the men were being held against their will in poor conditions and forced to work for no pay.

"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," said Detective Chief Inspector Sean O'Neil, from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit.

"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."

He added: "They're recruited and told if you come here we'll pay you £80 ($125, 95 euros) a day, we'll look after you give you board and lodgings.

"But when they get here, their hair is cut off them, they're kept in in some cases (in) horseboxes, dog kennels and old caravans, made to work for no money, given very, very small amounts of food.

"That's the worse case. Some are treated a little bit better, but they were told they could not leave and if they did they would be beaten up and attacked.

"But in fact some people did leave and told us what was going on and when we looked back since 2008 we were aware of 28 people who had made similar accusations."

The rescued men have been taken to a medical centre.

"Some of these people have come off covered in excrement and dirty clothing because that was all they were allowed to live in," O'Neil told BBC television.

"After being cared for, given food and fresh clothing, we hope to then interview them. That in itself will take a long time because these people are institutionalised.

"One person we know has been here 15 years -- so to him this is normal life."

© 2011 AFP

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