Man sentenced in Cumbria shed investigation
4th February 2022
A man who exploited a vulnerable worker living in a shed on a caravan park in Cumbria has been given a suspended jail sentence.
Peter Swailes, 56, was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for 18 months, when he appeared before Carlisle Crown Court on Friday February 4.
Swailes, of Cryndlbeck Stables, Low Harker, Carlisle, had previously admitted a charge of conspiring to organise the travel of an individual with a view to exploiting them contrary to Section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
In sentencing Swailes, Judge Richard Archer took account of his limited guilty plea, on the basis he was unaware of the victim's living conditions and did not work with him on a regular basis. Swailes was also reported to be in poor physical and mental health.
Swailes was arrested by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in April 2019. Six months earlier, GLAA investigators were supported by the National Crime Agency and Cumbria Police in executing a search warrant at Hadrian’s Caravan Park near Carlisle.
His father, also Peter Swailes, was arrested on that day and was due to stand trial but died last year, aged 81.
During the course of this operation, officers approached a small green wooden shed. After they knocked on the door, they were greeted by the victim who said that he had lived on site for 40 years.
In interviews, he told the GLAA that he was used on a daily basis for menial tasks such as cleaning out stables, tarmacking, and working on roofs. On one occasion, he actually fell from a roof and sustained serious injuries, including five broken ribs.
He added that he built and painted Swailes’ house, also pictured below.
For all this work, he was paid as little as £10 per day.
The shed itself was unheated and in total darkness. Investigators discovered two heavily soiled bedding quilts and foam seat pads which served as makeshift mattresses.
A large pool of congealed vomit was soaking into the carpet underneath the bedding, and the carpet itself gave off a pungent odour.
The victim, who is now in his early 60s, was immediately rescued from the site when the GLAA visited in October 2018. He was given all the medical support he required and accepted into the government’s National Referral Mechanism.
He now lives in supported accommodation outside of Cumbria and has been helped by City Hearts, a charity providing long-term support to survivors of modern slavery.
He said: “I was kept in a padlocked shed on a mattress, unable to leave unless I was told I could.
“I didn’t run away, because I had nowhere else to go.
“I now go on daily walks just because I can. I enjoy long walks to the shops, watching football and have made new friends.”
Kyle France, an Accommodation Manager for City Hearts, was one of the first on hand to support the victim when he arrived at one of the charity’s safe houses back in 2018.
He said: “When he arrived, he clearly hadn’t had a wash for a very long time. He needed a doctor. He had some visible injuries. He arrived with just the clothes on his back. He just needed looking after.
“In England, it’s the longest I’ve heard of anyone being kept in modern slavery. Why a shed? What did he do to deserve a shed? The dog’s shed was better looked after. It shows a level of hatred that I just can’t get my head around.”
The victim spent three years at the safe house, where he received practical support including help with obtaining clothing and toiletries, as well as learning basic life skills including maintaining hygiene, cooking, and using a washing machine.
He also received counselling sessions to help him to overcome his trauma.
With the support of Kyle and the City Hearts team, he was assessed by Adult Social Services and diagnosed with additional development needs which meant he was eligible for supported living.
Kyle added: “He wanted his own place to live, but it quickly became apparent that he couldn’t live independently. He’d never lived independently outside of that shed. So with his consent, we looked into getting him supported living.
“I’m amazed by him, and super proud of him. He’s just overcome so much stuff.
“He’s in a lovely flat, being looked after by amazing people.”
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said: “This has been a truly harrowing and traumatic case. At the GLAA, our aim first and foremost is to work in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers. The priority from the outset was always to rescue this individual and we have succeeded in doing that.
“I want to thank all of my team for their hard work, dedication and professionalism in what have been extremely challenging circumstances.”
Rob Richardson, head of the NCA’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said: “This was one of the most complex, challenging and distressing cases our officers have dealt with, involving a highly vulnerable victim who was exploited for decades and forced to live in the most abject conditions.
“Highly experienced and professional NCA officers worked for months with colleagues in the GLAA, the police and professional intermediaries to support a severely traumatised and vulnerable victim to obtain the best possible evidence against his abusers. This was crucial in bringing this case to court.
“Modern slavery is one of the most abhorrent crimes we see. The NCA and our partners are determined to root it out and bring those involved to justice.”
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Donnelly is Cumbria Constabulary’s force lead for modern slavery.
He said: “People may in the past have thought cases such as this don’t happen in somewhere like Cumbria – but this demonstrates this is an issue for this county as well as the rest of the UK.
“Both police and our partners have carried out significant work across Cumbria to raise public awareness of these crimes.
“We work hard to protect vulnerable people, stop any possible exploitation as quickly as possible and to bring anyone found responsible for these crimes to justice.
“Many of these cases are identified through the vigilance of the public and our partners as they become more aware and attuned to identifying victims and offenders alike, so we would urge anyone with information or any concerns to contact us as soon as possible.”