“These poor people were being forced to work in the worst of conditions for next to no pay, it was absolutely disgraceful,” declared Superintendent Charles Grinder of Middlesex Constabulary, following a series of raids on business premises in the Feltham and Sunbury areas as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged slavery offences. “I have no doubt that we’ve broken up a vicious modern slavery ring, where down on their luck individuals have been trapped into hard labour schemes by unscrupulous and vicious organisations.” The premises raided included several branches of Poundland, Tesco and Primark, with at least thirty ‘slaves’ being taken away from them police and anti-slavery charities. “These people, predominantly young, but including several in middle age, were being forced to work long hours, carrying out monotonous physical tasks, often allowed the most cursory of breaks, with their every action being closely monitored by overseers, or, as the ’employers’ liked to call them, ‘supervisors’,” Grinder told a press conference. “Any perceived ‘slacking off’ would be met with threats of punishment, principally the withdrawal of their pay – which was well below minimum wage. In fact it was the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance, normally paid only to the unemployed!” As well as being forced to endure forced labour, the rescued individuals were also found to be living in appalling conditions. “They were typically living in unheated bedsits running with damp. All of the properties were in poor states of repair,” the top cop explained. “Many were subsisting on cheap past-its-sell-by-date food, others on cat or dog food.”

Relatives of the rescued ‘workers’ have expressed their relief at finding that they are safe. “He just seemed to vanish,” Mrs Agnes Janks, whose twenty one year old son was found by police stacking shelves in a Feltham Poundland. “He’d been claiming benefits since he’d lost his job with the council as a result of spending cuts. He was so depressed by the lack of work that when he disappeared, we feared that he’d topped himself. Then we heard that he was on some kind of ‘work placement scheme’, which sounded positive, but he never seemed to be home when we called. It now turns out they had him working all hours for no pay! It’s like some kind of cult!” Other victims’ families have depressingly similar tales to tell, with vulnerable relatives being lured into servitude by the promise of regular work at the end of their ‘indenture’ at a major High Street chain. Jake Ligner, who was rescued from a Tesco supermarket in Enfield during a previous anti-slavery operation earlier this year, has told of how he and other slaves were brainwashed into accepting their situation. “They just kept on telling us that we were workshy and worthless because we didn’t have jobs and were claiming benefit,” he claimed in an interview with top broadsheet the Sunday Bystander. “It was relentless – day in, day out, they just kept on repeating that we were a drain on society and that it was only right we did something to earn our benefits. Combined with the repetitive tasks were given – endlessly putting things on shelves, then taking them off again and putting them on other shelves for hour after hour – it just wore us down until we were left with no sense of self-worth.”

Isolated from their families and friends by long work hours and low pay, Ligner and his fellow slaves quickly became completely dependent upon their ’employers’. “Stacking shelves, sweeping floors, shifting stock around, it was all we could think of,” he recalled. “It was all we thought that we were capable of doing – we had no ambition, no motivation other than getting through the day and not losing our benefits!” Ligner and his fellow victims had to be put through an intensive course of de-programming following their rescue, before they could readjust to normal life. “We had to be taught self-respect again, realise that it is OK to have ambitions beyond menial work,” he told the newspaper. “Most of all, the de-programming reminded us that it wasn’t our fault that we were jobless and penniless – that poverty isn’t a lifestyle choice!”

Whilst no arrests have so far been made are a result of any of the raids, including the latest, Superintendent Grinder has assured the press that his force are hot on the trail of the organisation behind the slavery scheme. “The companies whose premises we raided all claimed that they had been assured by the organisation supplying these ‘workers’ that it was all above board and legal,” he explained. “They also said that the organisation was ‘heavily connected’ and apparently ‘protected’ at the highest level.” The shadowy organisation in question has been tentatively identified by detectives as being called ‘Workfare’. “As far as we can make out, they recruit these people from the dole queues, when they are at their lowest ebb, with no money or prospects,” Grinder claimed. “They are given all sorts of promises of proper jobs at the end of their indentured service and told that it can be arranged for their benefits to be stopped if they don’t comply. However, our investigations are yet to uncover a single case where a ‘Workfare’ slave actually gained paid employment through this ‘scheme’.”

At least one anti-slavery campaigner fears that ‘Workfare’ and the people behind it might never be brought to justice. “We’ve tried so many times to close these evil bastards down, but every time they wriggle out of it,” explains Harry Glickoff, who has spent the past few years fighting slavery in the UK. “Attempts to prosecute them always seem to fail and those individual operatives we’ve identified always seem to evade responsibility for their actions. There’s no doubt that they are being shielded by someone very high up in government.” However, Grinder believes that his investigation was well on the way to identifying the individuals behind ‘Workfare’. “We’ve managed to get some names,” he says. “Apparently the ‘Mr Bigs’ at the top call themselves ‘Smith’, possible with the first names ‘Iain’ and ‘Duncan’.”