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Five arrested in slavery swoop at Travellers' site

Officers search for more victims after 24 freed

Twenty-four "slaves" who were held at a Travellers' site in "shockingly filthy and cramped" conditions for up to 15 years have been freed as part of an ongoing police operation.

Officers were last night searching for more victims and suspects after making five arrests under anti-slavery laws in a dawn raid on Sunday.

The arrests at Greenacre caravan site in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, formed part of a two-year operation, a police spokesman said. Weapons, drugs and money were found at the site, he said. Officers believe other suspects they intended to arrest in yesterday's raid had left the site and warned that slaves could also have been moved.

Detective Chief Inspector Sean O'Neil said the men were "recruited" from soup kitchens and benefits offices. "They're told if you come here we'll pay you £80 a day. But when they get here, their hair is cut off them, they're kept in in some cases [in] horseboxes, dog kennels and old caravans, made to work for no money, given very, very small amounts of food."

The raid highlights the extent to which slavery in Britain thrives more than 200 years after it was outlawed. Anti-slavery campaigners said that, at any one time, there are around 5,000 people who are victims of trafficking for forced labour and prostitution.

Paul Donohoe, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International, said: "Coercion is used to bring people into the country to work in the sex industry or do other types of forced labour. Some are told they are coming to work in a café and only find out they are being exploited when they arrive. Others are paid a nominal wage, from which is deducted money they are told they owe; most commonly they are told they are paying back the cost of transporting them to Britain."

Factfile

More slaves in Britain come from Nigeria than from any other country, ahead of China and Vietnam and more than a quarter are men and a similar number are children.

Official figures compiled using the National Referral Mechanism show that between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2011 1,481 people were working as slaves in the UK.

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