What’s 40 years of a man’s life worth?
A man kept locked in a garden shed for more than 40 years, has seen his abuser walk away from court with a suspended sentence today (Feb 4 2022).
In 2018, shocking reports emerged of a man rescued from a 6x4ft shed in Cumbria, where he had been held in squalor, and exploited for more than four decades, by a father and son, both named Peter Swailes.
The men were arrested by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in April 2019 for Trafficking and Modern Slavery crimes, however Peter Swailes Senior, 81, died in 2021 before going to trial. His son, Peter Swailes, 56, was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for 18 months, at Carlisle Crown Court.
Their victim Chris* was ‘taken in’ by the family at the age of 15 following a childhood in the care system. They then spent the next four decades exploiting him for work.
The pair found him jobs as a painter and labourer on nearby farms. They drove him there and back each day, ensuring he completed the work, and then pocketed his pay for themselves.
When he wasn’t working, Chris, who has learning difficulties, was kept in a dark shed.
“I was kept in a padlocked shed on a mattress, unable to leave unless I was told I could,” Chris said.
“The shed had no kitchen, shower or heating, and only a bucket as a toilet.”
It was during one of his painting jobs that Chris fell from a ladder and broke his back and ribs. He was taken to hospital, but was removed by the Swailes before being discharged, and dragged back to his life of drudgery.
“I didn’t run away, because I had nowhere else to go,” said Chris, who had been encouraged to drink to excess by his captors as a way of controlling him.
Luckily, following a tip off from a member of the public, Chris was found by the GLAA. When investigators opened the shed door, they found it unheated, filthy, and in total darkness.
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said: “This has been a truly harrowing and traumatic case. I’ve been at the GLAA now for more than a decade and before that spent many years in the police, and I cannot remember an investigation where the exploitation of a vulnerable worker has taken place over such a long period of time.”
Following his rescue, Chris was looked after by City Hearts, where he began his long journey to recovery.
City Hearts Accommodation Manager, Kyle France, said: “He was exhausted when he arrived. He was timid and scared, like a deer in headlights.
“He didn’t realise the severity of what had happened to him.
“When he first arrived, sorting out his hygiene was a priority,” added Kyle.
“It was clear he hadn’t had a wash in a very, very long time. He needed a shave, he needed clothes. He just really needed looking after.”
Chris also needed medical attention due to a number of fresh and old injuries that had been left untreated.
“He had clearly been in an accident or had been hurt by someone when he arrived,” said Kyle.
“He also struggled to walk because of the pain in his back.”
The team taught Chris how to cook, use a washing machine, and take care of his basic needs, but it quickly became apparent to City Hearts staff that Chris was illiterate and didn’t communicate in a typical way.
“There was clearly a misunderstanding in how he interpreted requests,” said Kyle.
“If you asked him to do something, he would take it as an order and do it, no matter what it was. He didn’t understand consent. You could see that he would have done whatever they told him to do. They could have put him in a five star hotel and he still would have done whatever they said.
“But they felt the need to lock him in a shed. They didn’t even give him a toilet. The dog’s shed was better looked after. It shows a level of hatred that I just can’t get my head around.”
City Hearts supported Chris through ongoing counselling sessions to overcome his trauma and arranged for adult social care services to make an assessment on his speech and language skills. He was diagnosed with a severe developmental delay and his additional needs, teamed with a life time of being locked away in a shed, meant that Chris wouldn’t be able to live independently.
With the help of City Hearts and social services, Chris moved into supported accommodation, where he is now finally able to enjoy his life and new found freedom.
“I now go on daily walks just because I can,” said Chris. “I enjoy long walks to the shops, watching football, and have made new friends during my time with City Hearts. I haven’t drunk alcohol since my rescue in 2018, and am proud of my accomplishments.”
“I’m amazed by him, and super proud of him,” said Kyle. “He’s just overcome so much. He knows he’s lost a massive chunk of his life to these people, but that’s done now. He can move on from that.
“He’s in a lovely flat, being looked after by amazing people. And that makes me happy. He deserves the world.”
There are estimated to be more than 136,000 people being exploited in the UK, and even though Chris came into contact with numerous people over his lifetime, it took years for someone to realise he needed help.
“Everyone assumes that modern slavery doesn’t happen here,” said Kyle. “But this case is a perfect example of proving that it does. Modern slavery is so prevalent in this country that we need the public to have knowledge around it. People need to know what to do if they see someone vulnerable.
“It’s just devastating to think, that not only has one person done this to him, but also that person’s children did this to him. Multiple generations of people did this to him- without one person stopping to think- ‘we shouldn’t have done that.’
On hearing that Peter Swailes was handed a suspended sentence, City Hearts spokesperson Diane Peters, said: “After supporting Chris* for over three years, and witnessing first-hand the difficulties he faced overcoming his trauma, and his day to day struggles to rebuild his life after 40 years of exploitation, City Hearts are both disheartened and disappointed with the sentence given at Carlisle Crown Court today.
“However it is important to recognise that a successful prosecution has been made, which is rare in modern slavery cases, and many survivors in our care do not get their horrendous ordeals heard in court. It is important for us that the client now has closure and can move on with his life.”
Kyle France Accommodation Manager at City Hearts added: “No level of sentencing would ever be enough. But the defendant now has to walk the streets with the public knowing his face and the horrendous crimes he has committed.
“But what’s 40-years-of a man’s life worth?”
City Hearts are a registered charity and rely on the generosity of supporters to help fund their vital work. By making a donation today, you can help to ensure that survivors freed from slavery can access the services and support they need to rebuild their lives. Visit cityhearts.enthuse.com/Donate
If you suspect someone is a victim of modern slavery and in need of help, you can confidentially report it 24/7 by calling 0800 808 3733.
Video of shed where victim was found: https://vimeo.com/667269920
*Chris is a pseudonym