Five Irish travelers have been arrested after British police smashed what they believe to be a slavery camp outside London.
Armed officers rescued 24 victims who were allegedly held captive as slaves when they raided a campsite in Bedfordshire, north of London, at dawn on Sunday.
The five travelers, four men and a woman, were arrested under the UK’s Slavery and Servitude Act with charges expected to follow within the next 48 hours.
Some of the victims are believed to have held captive by the travelers for as many as 15 years. Mostly Eastern European refugees, the group rescued also includes homeless British citizens.
Police understand they were lured to the camp by offers of employment laying tarmac and in house maintenance.
They were allegedly held captive at the Green Acres caravan park in Little Billington and housed in rundown caravans and garden sheds.
Reports say the 24 victims, currently receiving medical care, were in an appalling condition when they were rescued as they slept four to a caravan.
One ‘slave’ was fouled with excrement while two others were freed from a locked garden shed.
Investigators believe the traveler gang recruited the ‘slaves’ at welfare benefit offices, employment exchanges, charity soup kitchens and at aid organizations helping those suffering from alcoholism or drug addictions.
Detective Chief Inspector Sean O’Neil of the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire major crimes unit outlined the details of the scam and the sights that greeted officers when they raided the campsite.
“They’re recruited and told if you come here we’ll pay you £80 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 some cases, in horseboxes, dog kennels and old caravans, made to work for no money, given very, very small amounts of food,” revealed Det. Chief Insp. O’Neil, speaking to AP.
“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.”
An investigation in the slavery ring has been ongoing for four years as police awaited a change in the UK’s anti-slavery legislation in 2010 which encouraged witnesses to make formal statements.
Det. Chief Insp. O’Neil added: “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 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.”
Weapons and drugs were also found in the 200 strong police raid, triggered after a former victim approached police and alleged he had been held by a gang who repeatedly beat him and threatened him with even worse consequences if he tried to escape.