Beds, Herts & Bucks

Fear trapped me at Green Acres, escapee says

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Media captionThe man said he was approached when homeless in London

A man who claims he was kept as a virtual slave at a Bedfordshire travellers' site says fear of being beaten kept him from escaping.

The man was approached when homeless in London and told he would earn £50 plus alcohol a day, but was trapped for eight months at the Green Acres site.

He fled in 2008 but said: "You saw that if someone tried to leave, you're going to get beaten up."

Police raided Green Acres last weekend and charged four men with enslavement.

They said 24 men, some English and some from eastern Europe, were found in "filthy and cramped" conditions in the raid. Detectives believe some may have been there for up to 15 years.

Detectives said they had become aware of 28 people previously making "similar accusations" after investigating the site since 2008.

'They've got you'

The man, who accepted the false offer in London, told the BBC he was still too frightened to give his name.

He said that when he arrived at the property, the accommodation was a horse box with wooden sleeping platforms.

With no alcohol, the man told the BBC he had to spend a couple of weeks detoxing before he was strong enough to work. His hair was roughly shaved off with cold water and a razor blade, leaving some scars.

Explaining why he had thought it was a good idea to accept the offer of work, he said: "If someone offers you £50 a day and as much booze as you can drink, just for a bit of work, that's happy days.

"That's why it's so easy for them just to grab you and put you in a van, because once you're in there, they've got you."

'Kicked in face'

The daily routine began about three in the morning, he said: "As I was on the bottom bunk I usually got kicked in the face to wake up.

Image caption More than 200 police officers took part in Sunday's raid at the Green Acres site

"So, you'd get up about 3 o'clock, hustled to get in the van, everyone gets in the van, and then we'd drive for an hour and a half... to the site we were working at."

He said the work involved breaking up driveways and moving concrete slabs around. There was no money and little food, he said.

He ended up there for months, too scared to leave: "I think people stayed because of fear, because you saw what was going on right in front of your eyes."

When he finally escaped, the man went straight to police who put him on a train back to his brother.

His brother said he was shocked at the man's state. He told the BBC his brother was underweight, had obvious signs of beatings, had scars on his head from razors, had black teeth from malnutrition, and smelled.

"It's difficult to put across how shocking it is to see one of your family come back to you in the state he came back in."

Suspicion of slavery

Four men and a heavily pregnant woman were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of committing slavery offences at the Green Acres caravan site in Leighton Buzzard.

The men - three brothers and their brother-in-law - were remanded in custody on Tuesday after appearing in court charged with enslaving four men found at a travellers' site.

The woman was released on bail and will be questioned further after she gives birth, police said.

Det Ch Insp Sean O'Neil, speaking earlier this week, said the 24 men appeared to have been "recruited" from soup kitchens and benefits offices and included people with problems such as alcoholism.

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