Man found guilty of exploiting vulnerable worker found living in squalid conditions avoids jail

A man who exploited a vulnerable victim found living in a squalid shed has walked free from court.On Friday, Peter Swailes Jr, 56, was sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court to a nine-month jail term, suspended for 18 months.

The victim had been “used and exploited” for 40 years while living with the defendant’s father Peter Swailes Snr, the court heard.

He was made to live in a horse box, a disused caravan and more recently in a shed on a residential site north of Carlisle.

The Crown accepted the defendant’s guilty plea last month to conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of another with a view to exploitation on the basis he was unaware of the victim’s living conditions.

Peter Swailes Snr, 80, who died last year while awaiting trial, had denied the offence.

The charges came following a three-year investigation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), supported by Cumbria Police and the National Crime Agency, after a man was found living in a 6ft shed with no lighting and a soiled duvet on the floor.

The victim received specialist help after he was rescued and now lives in supported accommodation outside Cumbria.

Barbara Webster, prosecuting, said: “When (the victim) was around 18 years of age, he was approached by Mr Swailes Senior, and invited to work with him doing various jobs.

“He lived on the same site as Mr Swailes Senior. He had various accommodations, including a horse box, an old caravan, and in the last five years or so, and during this offending, the shed that we have heard so much about.

“The court will be aware that he lived in the shed next to the chalet of Mr Swailes, with no heating, no lighting and no flooring.

“In stark contrast, the family dog lived in much more comfortable surroundings.”

Miss Webster said the victim had a low IQ and “very little understanding of the world around him”.

She went on: “He 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 living accommodation.

“He had few possessions to show for his 40 years’ hard work. He only had a wash bag, three second-hand coats, a few stained duvets, and CDs.”

He lived with the Swailes family for many years after being in care as a child, with Swailes Snr telling him he was his “boss”.

When he was not being made to work, Swailes Snr would order him to do chores such as painting the kitchen and cutting the grass.

In a nearby similar-sized shed to the victim’s “accommodation”, there was a fitted carpet, a light, a gas heater and the family dog.

Miss Webster said: “Peter Swailes Senior had a far better standard of living, an elaborate, carpeted home with expensive personal belongings. A palace by contrast to where (the victim) lived.”

When officers attended the traveller site in October 2018, the victim told them he only received £10 a day for his work duties.

The court heard the defendant’s basis of guilty plea, accepted by the Crown, was he had known the victim for many years and he was a regular visitor at his home at Cryndlbeck Stables, Low Harker, Carlisle.

However he did not live with his father and was unaware of the victim’s living conditions.

Swailes Jr accepted that from “time to time” his father would contact him and arrange for the victim to undertake work with him, and that “on occasion” he paid him less than his minimum entitlement.

Judith McCullough, defending, said father-of-five Swailes Jr left the family home aged 14.

She said he and his father had not worked together and maintained separate businesses.

She said: “It was a strained and difficult relationship.”

Miss McCullough said the victim was a “well known character” within the travelling community and would occasionally dine at the defendant’s home and would be smartly dressed.

She said: “Peter Swailes is coming to terms with the fact that on occasion he undermined the trust and affection.

“He would employ him on a casual basis and on occasion he paid less than he ought to have done.

“For that he is sorry.

“He was shocked and angered to see the full picture once these proceedings were under way.

“Peter Swailes is in poor health.

“He is constant pain, regularly suffers mini-strokes and has problems with mobility.

“He also suffers from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

“It is very unlikely he will be able to run a business again.

“He has genuine remorse for his role in this offence.”

The jobs undertaken by the victim were ones no one else wanted to do or were far too dangerous, such as repointing chimneys and replacing roof tiles, the court heard.

Sentencing, Judge Richard Archer told Swailes Jr: “You may not have known the true extent of (the victim’s) living conditions, or his precise IQ, but it must have been obvious to you that he did not have any real appreciation for the potential consequences of some of the work that you required him to perform at an undervalue and with little or no regard for his personal safety.

“Your culpability is lower because you performed a limited function under direction with limited understanding or knowledge of the offending, or the effects of it at least.”

The judge said he took into account a pre-sentence report, which assessed Swailes Jr as posing a “very low” risk of reoffending, and also his personal mitigation, including his poor health.

Swailes Jr left court without comment.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, now lives in supported accommodation outside of Cumbria and has been helped by City Hearts, a charity providing long-term support to survivors of modern slavery.

He said: “I was kept in a padlocked shed on a mattress, unable to leave unless I was told I could.

“I didn’t run away because I had nowhere else to go.

“I now go on daily walks just because I can. I enjoy long walks to the shops, watching football and have made new friends.”

GLAA senior investigating officer Martin Plimmer said: “This has been a truly harrowing and traumatic case.

“At the GLAA, our aim first and foremost is to work in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers.

“The priority from the outset was always to rescue this individual and we have succeeded in doing that.”

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