Cumbrian admits crime which saw man treated like a 'slave' for up to 40 years and living in 6ft shed

Peter Swailes, who forced a man to live like a 'slave' in a shed for nearly 40 years.
Screengrab credit: Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
Peter Swailes junior, 56, who pleaded guilty today. Credit: Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority.

A man has admitted a human trafficking crime committed against another man believed to have been kept as a “slave” for up to 40 years in north Cumbria.

Peter Swailes junior, 56, had previously denied conspiring with others — including his recently-deceased father, 81-year-old Peter Swailes senior — to arrange or facilitate the man’s travel with a view to exploitation.

That charge dates back to July, 2015, when legislation came into force under the Modern Slavery Act, although investigators have previously voiced a belief that the victim was exploited over the course of several decades.

Specialist officers raided a residential site north of Carlisle at dawn in October, 2018, after a call to a confidential helpline, and found the 58-year-old man.

He was believed to have lived in a 6ft wooden shed which contained “just a chair and soiled bedding”.

A Gangmaser and Labour Abuse Authority officer at the scene of the crime. Credit: GLAA

He was medically examined and assessed by specialist trauma officers.Speaking after the raid, a senior investigating officer with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), which works to protect vulnerable and exploited workers, said the man was “traumatised”; “like a rabbit in headlights and very confused”.

He had, added the officer, been sleeping in conditions “that no human being should live in”.

Swailes Jr and his father were charged with the modern slavery conspiracy crime.

  • Warning: Graphic content: See inside the shed where the victim had been living (Credit: Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority.)

Peter Swailes Snr died late last year as the pair awaited trial, while Swailes Jr was due to face a jury this week. At Carlisle Crown Court this afternoon though he changed his plea to guilty.

This was on an agreed basis of “limited” involvement having not lived at the residential site and nor been aware of the man’s living conditions.

From time to time, Swailes Snr would make contact and arrange for his son to work with the man.

Peter Swailes junior, 56, pleaded guilty to a human trafficking offence. Credit: Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority.

Swailes Jr accepted that, on occasion, he paid the man — whom he’d known for many years and was a regular visitor to his home — “less than his minimum entitlement”.

Providing an update on the victim, prosecutor Barbara Webster told the hearing: “He currently resides elsewhere, if I can put it that way. He has accommodation that he is extremely happy with. He is in regular contact. He has a carer who comes in and checks him.

"He is doing extremely well. He will be cared for until the end of his life because of everything that has been put in place by the licensing authority for him.”

  • Watch Peter Swailes Jr tell reporters 'I always wanted to be a star'

Out-of-work Swailes junior, meanwhile, was receiving benefits, had suffered two strokes since 2018 and repeated mini-strokes.

“He is not in good health at all,” said his barrister, Judith McCullough.

Judge Richard Archer adjourned the case for a probation service pre-sentence report.

Police and GLAA officers making an arrest at the scene of the crime. Credit: GLAA

Swailes Jr, of Low Harker, near Carlisle, was bailed and is due to be sentenced at the crown court on 4th February.

“I’ve already indicated that this is a case which is so serious that a custodial sentence must follow,” said Judge Archer.

“But I will look with utmost favour on anything in the pre-sentence report - or any other documentation I read - that may allow me to suspend that sentence of imprisonment.”

GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said: “This has been a really harrowing investigation. In all my years in law enforcement, I have never known a modern slavery case where the exploitation has taken place over such a long period of time.

“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."

He added: “First and foremost in my mind at this time though 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.”