Three men working at scrapyards who were arrested as part of an investigation into modern slavery have been released on bail.
200 MRW exclusive
Meanwhile, at the Conservative Party conference, home secretary Amber Rudd praised her predecessor Theresa May for introducing the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.
Police raided CAP Recycling in Elwell Street, West Bromwich, and sister firm Black Country Recycling in Union Road, Oldbury, on 27 September, arresting three men on suspicion of working a group of eastern European nationals like slaves and paying them just £1 an hour.
Some 12 workers were brought in by the police to be “safeguarded”, six of whom were found at the two businesses, three at a flat and another two in a van outside a suspect’s address.
Now the police have told MRW that five of the safeguarded workers – three Polish men and a Slovakian man and woman – have been identified as victims and are happy to support a criminal investigation. They will be referred through the National Referral Mechanism.
Those five, as well as the woman’s two daughters, will now be cared for by the Salvation Army outside the region while enquiries progress.
Another of the safeguarded workers, a 70-year-old Indian Sikh male found at the CAP Recycling facility, was allegedly an illegal immigrant and has been passed to the immigration authorities.
The remaining six Polish men did not want to be involved in the investigation and have been referred to support agencies and charities. They could be repatriated to Poland if they volunteer to do so.
All three men arrested have been released on bail, two of whom are UK nationals aged 52 and 26. The other is a 47-year-old Pakistani national.
A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “We haven’t got all the evidence we need yet [to charge the suspects], so we’ve bailed them to carry on with those enquiries.”
He said such cases were difficult to investigate. He also said they were uncommon but the police suspect that more instances of slavery occur than they are aware of.
“If you know or suspect 20 or 30 eastern European nationals are holed up in a two-bedroom house then let us know about it because that’s a tell-tale sign they are probably being abused for labour exploitation,” he added.
The Modern Slavery Act requires businesses with a turnover of more than £36m to publish a Transparency in Supply Chains statement. Large waste companies including Shanks and Viridor have published theirs, while some such as FCC and Veolia have said they will do so after their current financial year ends.
The police spokesperson said the requirement could assist them with future investigations.
The British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) has praised the arrests, saying it was “very disturbed” to hear about the alleged crimes.
“Targeting such yards will bring additional benefits because they are also more likely to be operating illegally in other ways, such as ignoring environmental regulations and flouting health and safety requirements,” said chief executive Robert Fell.
Home secretary Amber Rudd’s speech at the Conservative Party conference:
“As I said at the outset…my predecessor was responsible for putting in place the first major piece of legislation of its kind in Europe, aimed at eradicating modern slavery.
“It is a barbaric crime. Perpetrated by individuals who prey on vulnerable men and women, intimidating them into a state of extreme fear, trafficking them from one country to another…
“Ripping them away from loved ones…stealing any money earned…reducing their victims’ dignity to nothing.
“The fact is that we are an affluent country. We do not know, or do not see, the people who have effectively been kidnapped…placed miles from home in squalid conditions…forced into prostitution or back-breaking domestic servitude.
“If we’re really honest, we simply struggle to comprehend that it happens…and that it happens here.
“This inhuman treatment can be much closer to your homes and work than you think, or want to think.
“As a country, we have to wake up to the reality of modern slavery…and we will continue to lead the global fight to eradicate it.”