modern slavery

Chris's story

Shutterstock 1292941312

It has been five years since Causeway supported a British man who had experienced one of the longest periods of exploitation and abuse that we had ever come across.

In November 2018, Chris* was rescued by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority after spending FORTY YEARS living in a squalid garden shed.

Chris, who has learning difficulties, was taken in as a teenager by a father and son, both named Peter Swailes, following a childhood in the care system. They spent the next four decades exploiting him for work.

The pair found him jobs as a painter and labourer on nearby farms, driving him there and back each day, then pocketing his pay for themselves.

When he wasn’t working, Chris 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 family before being discharged, then dragged back to his life of drudgery.

“I didn’t run away, because I had nowhere else to go,” said Chris.

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. They also discovered two quilts covered in excrement and a large pool of congealed vomit underneath the bedding.

Following his rescue, Chris was taken to a Causeway safe house, where he began his long journey to recovery.

Causeway Accommodation Manager, Kyle France, said: “Chris was exhausted when he arrived. He was timid and scared, like a deer in headlights.

“Sorting out his hygiene was a priority. 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 Causeway team taught Chris how to cook, use a washing machine, and take care of his basic needs. They also supported him in accessing counselling sessions, and arranged for adult social 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 Causeway and social services, Chris moved into supported accommodation, where he is now finally able to enjoy his life.

“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 Causeway.”

“I’m 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.”

Peter Swailes, and his son Peter Swailes junior were arrested by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in April 2019 for Trafficking and Modern Slavery crimes, however Peter Swailes Senior died in 2021 before going to trial. His son, Peter Swailes Jr was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for 18 months, at Carlisle Crown Court.

Causeway were disappointed that the suspended sentence did not, in our opinion, reflect the severity of the crime.

Kyle added: "No level of sentencing would have been enough. But what’s 40-years-of a man’s life worth?”

See the shed where Chris was found here