Twenty-four alleged victims of slavery have been provided with social care support after being rescued from a Bedfordshire traveller site.
The men, who come from England and Eastern Europe, were found in “shockingly filthy and cramped conditions” at the site in Leighton Buzzard, said police.
Four men appeared at Luton Magistrates’ Court today and have been remanded in custody to appear at Luton Crown Court at a future date. They are: James Connors, 23, who is charged with six offences of conspiracy to hold people in servitude or require them to perform forced labour; and Jimmy Connors, 23, Tommy Connors, 26, and Patrick Connors, 19, who are each charged with four offences of conspiracy to hold people in servitude or require them them to perform forced labour.
It is believed that some men may have been living at the Greenacre caravan site in Great Billington, Leighton Buzzard, for up to 15 years in sheds and horse boxes. Police believe that many had been recruited from soup kitchens and benefits offices and included people with problems such as alcoholism.
The raid involved about 100 police including the Beds and Herts Major Crime Unit, officers from the UK Human Trafficking Centre as well as charities the British Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The men were taken to an undisclosed medical reception centre where the two charities and Central Bedfordshire Council are providing for their social care and welfare needs, including food, drink, clothing and pastoral care.
Nine have since left and have chosen not to support the police investigation. The other 15 range in age from 30 to 57 and eight of them are British and are being interviewed by detectives.
“We are checking on the individuals’ welfare and giving them the practical help they need, such as providing clothing, hygiene kits including towels, blankets, emotional support and recreational activities such as games, radio and DVDs,” said British Red Cross Essex branch community services manager Melissa Magna. “We are also providign first aid cover and assisting with registration and serving food and drink. We are providing a 24/7 presence for the duration of the rest centre.”
Det Chief Insp Sean O’Neil, from the Beds and Herts Major Crime Unit, said: “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.”
The charges in relation to the case have been issued under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which created offences of holding people in servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour.
“Those people who we continue to help are appreciative of the support that is on offer, but it will take some time to work through with them what has happened,” he added. “The [Coroners and Justice Act 2009] has allowed the investigation more scope and takes into account emotional rather than physical harm.”
The unit had been conducting a long-running investigation into complaints that a number of people were being held against their will in poor conditions at the site and forced to work for no pay.
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