Four men, all with the surname Connors, have been charged with slavery offences following a police raid on an Irish Travellers’ site on Sunday. A heavily pregnant woman has been released on bail and is to be questioned further after the birth of her child.
Police freed 24 men in the raid, including eight Britons. They were kept in squalid conditions in the Greenacre caravan site, near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Some had been forced to live in dog kennels, while others lived in caravans and horseboxes. They were threatened with violence if they tried to escape and some had endured captivity for as long as 15 years.
According to police sources, more than 100 people are believed to have been held in this way across the country, with some being trafficked to Scandinavia and across Britain to work.
Police say at least 60 slaves, mostly recruited from homeless centres, dole cues and from the streets, have been freed since March, when three Travellers’ camps in Glouchestershire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire were raided. In those raids, 20 alleged victims were freed and four Travellers with the surname Connors were arrested and charged.
In June this year, another raid in Hampshire freed 14 alleged slaves and another two Connors were arrested and charged. A man with the surname Connors was also arrested in Denmark in August and is awaiting extradition to the UK.
"I am confident that while the investigation is in its early stages this is a family run ‘business’ and is an organised crime group that has been broken up," said Detective Chief Inspector Sean O’Neil from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit, in a statement released to media.
"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,” said O’Neil.
The men were put to work at manual labour jobs, such as laying driveways or paving slabs. They were not paid for their work, police said.
“They’re recruited and told if you come here we’ll pay you 80 pounds a day, we’ll look after you, give you board and lodgings,” said O’Neil.
“But when they get here, their hair is cut off them, they’re kept in some cases [in] horse trailers, dog kennels and old trailers, made to work for no money, [and] given very, very small amounts of food.
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