Guilty plea from man who kept worker ‘in effect as a slave’ in a small wooden shed for 40 years

Video taken by investigating officers shows the terrible living conditions endured by the victim for four decades

A man has pleaded guilty to a number of charges after keeping a worker “in effect as a slave” in a small shed for 40 years.

Peter Swailes, 56, of Cryndlbeck Stables, Low Harker, Carlisle entered a guilty plea when he appeared before Carlisle Crown Court, on Tuesday (January 18).

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When officers from a number of agencies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority knocked on the door of a static caravan in October 2018 and arrested a man on suspicion of offences under the Modern Slavery Act, he reportedly said to them: “Not all this slavery thing again”.

For 40 years Peter Swailes, now deceased, along with his son, also Peter Swailes, had been paying a vulnerable worker as little as £10 a day to do manual labour on farms, during which time he’d been housed in a dirty, ‘six-foot’ shed.

The officers who carried out the search noted that the only window in the shed did not close properly, and there was no working heating.

They also noted that another shed on the same site, which housed the Swailes’ dog, was in much better condition.

Swailes entered a guilty plea when he appeared before Carlisle Crown Court and was released on bail to appear before the same court for sentencing on February 4.

Along with his father, who died aged 81 shortly before standing trial, he was charged with conspiracy 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.

The GLAA’s senior investigating officer, Martin Plimmer, described the case as “really harrowing” and said he has never known a modern slavery case “where the exploitation has taken place over such a long period of time”.

He said: “It is pleasing to see that Swailes has finally done the right thing and pleaded guilty.

“I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of my investigators in dealing with what has been a very complex investigation, one that has thrown up numerous challenges along the way”.

Victim exploited ‘for all his adult life’

Officers from the GLAA, Cumbria Police and the National Crime Agency executed a search warrant at the Hadrian’s Wall caravan site near Carlisle in October 2018.

They found a small green wooden shed next to the caravan and knocked on the door, then were greeted by the victim who appeared “dishevelled and agitated” and informed the officers he had been living there for 40 years.

The victim, now in his early 60s, then asked if he could have a wash, indicating that he had no other washing facilities than a kitchen sink in a building next to the shed.

There was only one window in the shed, which could not be fully closed, and it was left in complete darkness when the doors were shut.

An old electric heater with damaged wiring was discarded in the corner of the shed, and there was no other heating inside.

In interviews, the victim stated that he worked on farms, with the work consisting of painting, slating and tarmacking for as little as £10 per day.

The victim was accepted into the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of modern slavery on the day he was rescued and continues to receive specialist support, including supported accommodation.

Martin Plimmer said: “First and foremost in my mind at this time is the victim. Let’s remember that he has been exploited for all his adult life up until just a few years ago. He is now in his early 60s. This is something that even now I struggle to comprehend. For four decades, he was in effect kept as a slave.

“We are sadly all too aware of the fact that he will be traumatised by his experience for the rest of his life. I am committed to ensuring he continues to have the regular, consistent support he needs which allows him to lead as normal a life as he can in the circumstances.”

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