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'It's not slave labour. They do paid work for cash into their hand'

Horses grazed in an adjoining paddock and an eerie quiet fell on the travellers' site known locally as Green Acres a day after a dawn raid that freed two dozen modern-day slaves.

The site, a collection of caravans, each ringed by red brick walls, sits at the end of a tree-lined country road near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.

Locals said yesterday they were "appalled" at the story unfolding on their doorsteps. "There were no rumours about it. I am shocked this has happened in our area," says one, who asked not to be named.

But the few residents of the site who were around told a different story, and rejected the suggestion that slavery was taking place at the site. "It's just rubbish, I don't think it is slave labour, they do paid work. It is cash-in-hand," said Margaret Lee (28). "It is not right what the police are doing. What have they done that is so good for these people?"

Ms Lee, who has lived on the site for 10 years, pointed to a caravan to which, she said, one of those taken into custody had returned earlier in the day. "Why, if they dislike it here so much, did they come back?" she asked.


She added: "They go down to the local supermarket all of the time, they could have left whenever they wanted. We used to see them heading out for a shower, some would speak to us."

Ms Lee described one of the men taken into custody by police, whom she named as Arthur. "I liked him, he had two children. Some of the men would send money home to their families. How could slaves do that?"

The site is split into two separate communities: the Romany Gypsies and the Irish Travellers. The hostility of some towards outsiders wandering around their community is plain. As a car carrying three young men with shaven heads rolled past, one gave a two-fingered salute to reporters.

As the school bus pulled up in the afternoon, five or six children got off off and ran down the driveway into the site. One of them stopped briefly to tell reporters that "us Dooleys are fighting people".