Three men have been arrested on suspicion of working a group of Polish nationals like slaves and paying them just £1 an hour at recycling plants in Sandwell.
West Midlands Police officers raided CAP Recycling in Elwell Street, West Bromwich, and sister firm Black Country Recycling in Union Road, Oldbury, this morning (27/09) as part of a modern day slavery investigation.
Six Polish men were found at the two businesses, three at a flat in Market Place, Great Bridge – believed to be living quarters for some workers – and another two found in a van outside a suspect’s address in West Bromwich’s Hope Street.
All the men have been taken to a reception centre in Tipton where they are being supported by the Red Cross. One is believed to have been working despite having a broken shoulder while others were displaying signs of malnutrition and alcohol dependency.
A man, aged 52, was arrested at the Elwell Street facility – and in connected raids at addresses in West Bromwich and Handsworth Wood, two men, aged 26 and 47, respectively, were arrested on suspicion of slavery offences.
Inspector Colin Mattinson, said: “Police intelligence suggested eastern European men were being exploited at the unit and being paid just £10 for working long hours.
“By contrast it’s believed the men taking advantage of these people – and playing on their vulnerabilities by plying them with alcohol – were living luxury lifestyles and driving around in high-value cars.
“We’ve found evidence suggesting some of these men were sleeping at one of the recycling units and bedding down on waste cardboard.
“Suspected victims will receive medical attention and support before being spoken to by our officers with the aid of Polish interpreters.
“We are raising awareness of modern day slavery but it remains a largely hidden crime. I’d urge members of the public to look out for tell-tale signs, things like large numbers of people staying in multi-occupancy houses and people being ferried to and from the address on vans or minibuses early in the morning and returning late at night.
“Cruel individuals are making large sums of money on the back of others’ misery – so please call us if you suspect people are being exploited in your community.”
Today’s operation saw West Midlands Police work alongside partners from the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Unit, Health & Safety Executive, West Midlands Fire Service, and council housing officers.
The 11 men safeguarded will have the option of supporting a criminal complaint and referred through the National Referral Mechanism.
Should they be identified as victims they will be housed by the Salvation Army outside the region – and away from the clutches of suspected gang masters – for 28 days while enquiries progress.
Councillor Preet Gill, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for Public Health & Protection, added: “I welcome these raids; they send out a clear message that we will not tolerate the exploitation of people in our community. Modern day slavery may be a hidden crime – but it’s a real concern.
“I hope today’s arrests will give a strong warning as well as encouraging people to report suspicious behaviour which may indicate exploitation is happening in their neighbourhood.”