UK man given suspended prison sentence for exploiting victim of slavery

Victim, ‘used and exploited’ for 40 years, was found living in a squalid shed north of Carlisle

A man who exploited a modern slavery victim found living in a squalid shed has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Peter Swailes Jr, 56, was sentenced to a nine-month jail term, suspended for 18 months, at Carlisle crown court on Friday.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been “used and exploited” for 40 years by the defendant’s father, Peter Swailes Sr, the court heard.

He was forced to live in a horsebox, a disused caravan and more recently in a small shed on a residential site north of Carlisle.

The shed north of Carlisle in Cumbria where the 58-year-old man was found
The shed north of Carlisle in Cumbria where the 58-year-old man was found. Photograph: GLAA/PA

Swailes Jr initially denied the charge but pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of another with a view to exploitation on the basis that he was unaware of the victim’s living conditions.

Peter Swailes Sr, 80, who died last year while awaiting trial, had denied the offence.

Swailes Jr accepted that from “time to time” his father would contact him and arrange for the victim to undertake work with him, and that “on occasion” he paid him less than his minimum entitlement.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Richard Archer told Swailes Jr: “You may not have known the true extent of (the victim’s) living conditions, or his precise IQ, but it must have been obvious to you that he did not have any real appreciation for the potential consequences of some of the work that you required him to perform at an undervalue and with little or no regard for his personal safety.”

The charges followed a three-year investigation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, supported by Cumbria police and the National Crime Agency, after a man was found living in a 2-metre (6ft) shed with a soiled duvet on the floor.

The victim, aged 58 at the time of his rescue, now lives in supported accommodation outside Cumbria and has been helped by the charity City Hearts, which supports survivors of modern slavery.

Spokesperson Diane Peters, said: “City Hearts are both disheartened and disappointed with the sentence given at Carlisle crown court today.

“However it is important to recognise that a successful prosecution has been made, which is rare in modern slavery cases, and many survivors in our care do not get their horrendous ordeals heard in court. It is important for us that the client now has closure and can move on with his life.”

Speaking via the charity, the victim 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.”

Following a childhood in the care system, the victim was 18 years old when he was approached by Swailes Sr and invited to work for him doing various jobs, the court was told.

Barbara Webster, prosecuting, said the victim had a low IQ and “very little understanding of the world around him”.

“He was found by the police living in a rotten shed, with water pouring through it, with a make-shift bed, and congealed vomit in the corner,” she told the court. “In stark contrast, the family dog lived in much more comfortable surroundings.”

“He had few possessions to show for his 40 years’ hard work. He only had a wash bag, three second-hand coats, a few stained duvets, and CDs.”

Judith McCullough, defending, said Swailes Jr was “shocked and angered to see the full picture once these proceedings were under way … he has genuine remorse for his role in this offence,” she told the court.

The GLAA senior investigating officer, Martin Plimmer, said: “This has been a truly harrowing and traumatic case. I cannot remember an investigation where the exploitation of a vulnerable worker has taken place over such a long period of time.”


Jessica Murray

The GuardianTramp