Five Irish held as UK police probe slavery ring

Police at the Greenacre caravan site in Leighton Buzzard.

Police in the UK are questioning five Irish people in connection with a suspected slavery ring in Bedfordshire.

Four men and a women were arrested yesterday after 200 officers stormed a caravan site in Leighton Buzzard.

It is reported that around 24 people were kept there in squalor, and against their will.

They were taken away for medical treatment and to be interviewed.

Police are looking for three more people in connection with the slavery ring.

More than 200 officers swooped on the Greenacres 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, and forced to work for no pay.

Police believe some may have been held for as long as 15 years.

The five suspects, all residents of the site, were detained on suspicion of slavery offences and are being held in custody at police stations across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, the force said.

They were arrested using new legislation under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010, said a police spokesman. Officers arrived at the site at 5.30am yesterday morning.

The 24 men, all believed to be victims of slavery, were taken from the site to a medical centre.

Police said they were mostly from English and eastern European backgrounds.

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.

A few young children played in the road running through the campsite but many residents were unwilling to speak about what had taken place.

Detective Chief Inspector Sean O’Neil, from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire 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.

“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.”

During the operation, the major crime unit joined forces with other specialist units including the dog section, helicopter and firearms support unit, and were assisted by officers from the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

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