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Eight rescued in 'slavery' probe

Police rescued eight people from "cramped and filthy" conditions at a caravan site following an investigation into them potentially being held as slaves and subjected to work exploitation.

The seven men, aged between 20 and 46, and a 17-year-old boy were freed from the Greenacres site near Leighton Buzzard early yesterday morning, Bedfordshire Police said.

They believe some may have been held there for many years.

Around 65 officers, including a police helicopter, armed units and dog handlers carried out a search warrant on two plots on the site.

Two men and two women who lived on the plots were arrested and are being held at police stations across Bedfordshire.

Police were unable to confirm the nationalities of those who were reportedly being held as slaves.

Some of the victims refused police help, but others were taken to a reception centre in an undisclosed location so they could receive medical, psychological and social care.

Central Bedfordshire Council is managing their care, and police liaison officers will interview them.

The National Crime Agency's UK human trafficking centre assisted police during the operation, along with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

Bedfordshire Police has held a long-running investigation into allegations of labour exploitation.

Chief Inspector Tania Coulson said: "The men we found at the plot were in a poor state of physical health and the conditions they were living in were cramped and filthy.

"We believe that some of the victims had been living and working there in a state of virtual slavery, some for just a few day/weeks and others for many years.

"The offences being investigated are extremely serious. We understand that some people may have information about what has been happening, but have been too scared to come forward and report it.

"People who do want to talk to us about this matter should contact us on 101, or Crimestoppers, which is both anonymous and independent from the police. You do not have to give your name, but if you do we will keep it secret."

The arrests come amid a national campaign by the Home Office to help raise awareness of the issue of modern slavery.

The campaign, which features a hard-hitting television advert, highlights some of the most common forms of modern slavery, including child trafficking, forced labour, sexual and criminal exploitation and domestic servitude.

Those who suspect cases of modern slavery or feel they may be a victim can call a national helpline on 0800 0121 700.

Earlier this year the Modern Slavery Bill, the first of its kind in Europe, was published to give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to tackle crime and increase support and protection for victims.

The Bill is being scrutinised by Parliament, with the intention that it becomes law before the General Election next year.

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