‘Gangmasters’ arrested after slavery raids on West Midlands recycling plants

Three ‘gangmasters’ have been arrested as part of a modern day slavery operation surrounding two recycling plants in Sandwell, near Birmingham.

West Midlands Police raided CAP Recycling in West Bromwich and its sister company Black Country Recycling in Oldbury, as well as properties in Great Bridge and West Bromwich, yesterday morning (27 September). There they found 12 Polish men that police suspect have been trafficked and paid as little as £1 an hour for work at the plants.

‘Gangmasters’ arrested after slavery raids on West Midlands recycling plants

A 52-year-old man was arrested at CAP Recycling on suspicion of slavery offences, and two more, aged 26 and 47, were arrested following connected raids at homes in West Bromwich and Handsworth Wood.

Police say that some of the Polish men found during the raids, who intelligence suggests were working shifts of up to 12 hours for pay of around £10, were displaying signs of malnutrition and alcohol dependency, while one was believed to have been working with a broken shoulder.

West Midlands Police Inspector Colin Mattinson, who led the operation, said that their investigations suggested that the three arrested men were “taking advantage of these people – and playing on their vulnerabilities by plying them with alcohol" and "were living luxury lifestyles and driving around in high-value cars”.

‘Gangmasters’ arrested after slavery raids on West Midlands recycling plants
Police prise open a door during a raid on one of the recycling plants

He added: “We’ve found evidence suggesting some of these men were sleeping at one of the recycling units and bedding down on waste cardboard.

"The house that they were staying in has been prohibited by the fire service and public sector housing have been in there and seen the state of that location, so people won't be living there anymore.

“Suspected victims will receive medical attention and support before being spoken to by our officers with the aid of Polish interpreters.”

All of the Polish men have now been taken to a local reception centre where they are being supported by the Red Cross. The West Midlands Police say that should they be identified as victims they will be housed by the Salvation Army outside the region, ‘away from the clutches of suspected gang masters’, for 28 days while enquiries progress. 

Tell-tale signs of modern day slavery

The operation was carried out as part of a multi-agency operation to highlight human trafficking. It comprises the West Midlands Police alongside partners from the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Unit, Health & Safety Executive, West Midlands Fire Service, and council housing officers.

Inspector Mattinson has urged the public to be on the lookout for the signs of illegal activities exploiting foreign nationals.

“We are raising awareness of modern day slavery but it remains a largely hidden crime,” he said. “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.”

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.”

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