SLAVERY in the modern world can be so subtle it is almost invisible.

Its victims are often among the most powerless in our society - some of them  vulnerable and isolated because they understand little English; at times fearful because they have uncertain immigration status.

Others have been trafficked illegally to the UK and so they simply want to stay below the radar, invisible to the authorities.

But there are yet other victims whose exploitation happens in plain sight and yet still their suffering continues. Among the most shocking examples of such modern slavery was the case of Carlisle’s now notorious 'shed slave.'

For decades, this vulnerable man lived a life of utter misery.

Vulnerable through his learning difficulties, he had no family to look out for his welfare. The ‘employer' he found at the Hadrian Park caravan site on Brampton Old Road, north of Carlisle, was anything but caring.

From the age of 18, the man ‘worked for’ Peter Swailes senior, at times living in a horsebox and then a disused caravan. When investigators from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) found him, his home was a garden shed, measuring 6ft square.

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Rotten, damp and devoid of comfort, it had neither heating nor lighting.

Swailes senior denied any wrongdoing but he died before he could give evidence at Carlisle Crown Court.

But the prosecution of his son, also called Peter, heard that a dog owned by Swailes senior had enjoyed better accommodation than the victim, living as it did in a nearby shed that was both carpeted and heated.

Prosecutor Barbara Webster told the court: “The victim was found by the police living in a rotten shed, with water pouring through it, with a make-shift bed, and congealed vomit in the corner; not the way that anyone would choose freely to live and not where he would be if he could have found himself better accommodation.

“There was another shed, with the same dimensions as the one [the victim] lived in. It was in good condition and contained tools.

“The shed was dry inside with a fitted carpet, and a light to the outside. There was no sagging or evidence of any rot in the floor. It had a gas heater. That shed was for a small white dog which was present.

"The only available food [in the victim's shed] was a half-eaten pot noodle, a bowl of sweets, yogurts and crisps.

"The odour of the shed was overwhelming and smelt of damp material and vomit. He had few possessions to show for his 40 years hard work.”

Ms Webster described the victim's meagre possessions: a wash bag, three second hand coats, a few stained duvets, and a few CDs. When found, he was unkempt, wearing a jacket and jeans which were damp.

There were traces of paint in his hair.

'How could this go unchecked for decades?'

The man told the police he was paid £10 a day for the work he did – which included high-level roof repair work and grass cutting – and he had only one set of clothes, and no savings.

Readers from across Cumbria reacted strongly to the prosecution, with many asking: Why did nobody act to protect this man? How could such exploitation be allowed to go unchecked for decades?

READ MORE: Stark new statistics suggest Cumbria is on track to record its highest ever number of slavery victims

Peter Swailes junior, 56, whose late father was said to be “controlling”, was given a nine-month jail term suspended for 18 months. The judge accepted he had had “limited responsibility” for what happened to the victim.

Nor did he have knowledge of the man’s living conditions, he said. Swailes Junior did, however, accept paying the man less than he was entitled for work that he did. The judge also accepted that Swailes Junior had feared his father.

'A new life'

The shed slave victim has now started a new life. Kyle France, an accommodation manager for tdhe City Hearts charity which has helped him, said: “When he arrived, he clearly hadn’t had a wash for a very long time.

"He needed a doctor. He had some visible injuries. He arrived with just the clothes on his back. He just needed looking after.

“In England, it’s the longest I’ve heard of anyone being kept in modern slavery. Why a shed? What did he do to deserve a shed? The dog’s shed [owned by Swailes Senior] was better looked after.”

The victim has spent three years at the safe house, receiving practical support that includes help with obtaining clothing and toiletries, as well as learning basic life skills including maintaining hygiene, cooking, and using a washing machine.

He has also been given counselling to address his trauma.

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