Britons were reminded, Sunday, that slavery is still alive, even in 2011.
Four men and one woman have been arrested for their alleged part in the enslavement of at least 24 men.
More than 200 police raided a trailer site in Leighton Buzzard, just north of London, early Sunday morning after a tipoff from a man who had escaped. Police said they found the enslaved men on the verge of starvation in filthy and cramped conditions.
“We found 24 people being held against their will on the site, being kept in appalling conditions, covered in excrement [wearing] poor clothing [and in] poor general conditions [...] Prior to that, we're aware of up to 28 people who have escaped the site," said Detective Chief Inspector Sean O'Neil, from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit, according to a Reuters report.
"In the past, people have been held in horse boxes [and] dog kennels. There's examples here today of outbuildings and caravans. They all tend to be the old caravans with no electricity [and] no running water," O’Neil added.
James Connors, Tommy Connors, Patrick Connors, and their brother-in-law, James Conner have been charged, under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010, with conspiracy to hold others in servitude. One pregnant woman was also arrested but was released on bail, to be questioned after the imminent birth of her baby.
Bedfordshire police said they are searching for two additional suspects.
The men were allegedly recruited at soup kitchens and welfare offices where they were offered £80 a day and free room and board.
“When they get here, their hair is cut off them, they're kept, in some cases, [in] horse boxes, dog kennels and old caravans, made to work for no money, given very, very small amounts of food,” O’Neil said. “That's the worse case. Some are treated a little bit better, but they were told they could not leave and if they did they would be beaten up and attacked."
"But in fact some people did leave and told us what was going on and when we looked back since 2008 we were aware of 28 people who had made similar accusations," he said.
Officials have not explained why those accusations did not lead to the discovery of the alleged slave holders arrested on Sunday.
Officers said they believed some of the men had been held captive for 15 years being forced to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for no pay.
All were taken to an undisclosed medical center but nine have left the center and "have chosen not to support the police investigation," according to a statement by the Bedfordshire Police on Monday.
O'Neil said, "those people whom we continue to help are appreciative of the support that is on offer, but it will take some time to work through with them what has happened."
Police said they also seized drugs, weapons, and money during the raid.
Under the new Slavery and Servitude Act, anyone convicted in the UK of holding a person in servitude faces up to 14 years in prison.
The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre says there have been nearly 1,500 cases of slavery in the UK over the last two years. Other estimates put the number of human slaves worldwide at 27 million.