By Madeline O’Connor
IN a new case of alleged slavery – just weeks after it was revealed that three women were apparently kept at a south London home for up to 30 years – three men have been rescued from three different travellers sites near Bristol.
Seven people who were arrested following the discovery on Sunday as part of Operation Wanderer, an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking in the Bristol area, have all been released on bail.
The raids were carried out at Northwood Park in Winterbourne, Tall Trees in Almondsbury and Green Orchard in Easter Compton and the men they found were apparently being made to live in terrible conditions in caravans and work for little or no pay.
The men, one Briton and two Eastern Europeans – one in his 30s, one in his 40s and one in his 50s -were freed on Sunday, the result of a five-week police probe sparked by intelligence built up by CID.
Police had arrested two people in connection with slavery offences and five others on suspicion of offences including cannabis production, money laundering and handling stolen goods.
Detectives are looking into possible links to Irish traveller groups on sites in other parts of the UK, where vulnerable men from Britain and abroad are said to have been kept against their will and under the threat of violence.
Head of CID, Chief Superintendent Julian Moss, said that “victims in such cases are often forced to live and work in poor and unsanitary conditions… Some of those affected will not view themselves as victims and, even if they do, may have been unable to speak to the police or any other authorities for a variety of reasons.
“To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Today’s operation is a very visible statement of our intent to protect people from this type of exploitation.”
Ch Supt Moss added that it was important to recognise that the actions of a small minority of people were not reflective of the wider travelling community.
Last year, four people were jailed after a raid at a Bedfordshire site in 2011 revealed 23 men who had been kept prisoner and forced to work under fear of violence. It emerged that a powerful traveller family made money from the victims who were addicts they picked up off the street.
In another case, five members of an Irish traveller family were found guilty last December of keeping a private workforce in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and paying them just £5 a day.
An investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is asked to call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.