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Irish Travellers held as 24 saved from slavery horror

Some of them had been recruited at welfare offices, employment exchanges, charity soup kitchens or at aid organisations helping those suffering from alcoholism or drug addictions.

In one shocking instance, police said the Traveller gang targeted a vulnerable man who was sitting on a bridge and was about to commit suicide.

"They're recruited and told if you come here we'll pay you £80 (Sterling) a day, we'll look after you, give you board and lodgings," said Det Chief Insp Sean O'Neil of the constabulary's major crimes unit.

"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.

"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."


The senior police officer 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," he added.

"Because of the number of victims and suspects and the size of the site, we needed the assistance of many officers from specialist units today.

"We are aware the operation has caused a lot of disruption to the other residents of the site and we thank them for their co-operation and understanding."

More than 200 officers swooped on the Green Acres Travellers' site in Leighton Buzzard during the early hours of yesterday morning and found the large group of men living in squalid conditions.

The raid was launched as part of a long-running investigation by Bedfordshire Police which suggested the men were being held against their will in poor conditions at the site.


Weapons, drugs and money were found at the private site, which is thought to have been occupied by a mostly Traveller community for about 10 years.

The five suspects, all residents of the site, were detained on suspicion of slavery offences and are being held in custody.

Of the 24 men held against their will, 17 were British, three were from Poland and the remainder from Russia and Romania.

Police said some of the men will have to be carefully re-introduced to a proper diet as their bodies have existed on meagre rations for a long period of time.

Dozens of police vans remained at the site, which consists of a series of gated properties set off a winding road, until late yesterday afternoon.

The investigation into the slavery began when a man contacted Bedfordshire police, alleging he had been enslaved, frequently beaten and threatened with more violence after being offered work outside a job centre.

The allegations prompted months of covert intelligence and led directly to the caravan site raid.