Slavery probe as two men found living in 'filthy' abandoned store

Two Romanian men are found living in ‘filthy’ abandoned Sussex department store without hot water, heating or flushing toilets sparking modern slavery probe

  • Romanian ‘slaves’ were living in squalor inside an abandoned department store
  • Photos taken inside former TJ Hughes site in Eastbourne show ‘filthy’ conditions
  • Two men were found living inside with no heating, hot water or flushing toilets 

Police opened a modern slavery probe after finding two men living in ‘filthy conditions at an abandoned department store on the South coast.

Sussex Police officers stormed the former TJ Hughes site in Eastbourne on Thursday after receiving a tip-off from the public.

Two Romanian men were found sleeping inside the building, with no hot water, heating or flushing toilets.

Officers said the site was ‘filthy,’ with at least three mattresses lying on the floor next to rubbish, scratchcards and an electric heater for warmth.

A tip-off from a member of the public led police in Eastbourne, Sussex, to find two Romanian men, suspected of being victims of modern slavery, living inside the town’s abandoned TJ Hughes department store on Tuesday

A spokesman for Sussex Police said: ‘Concerns had been raised in relation to the site, where a rubbish clearance company from London had been appointed to clear the building of fixtures and fittings.

‘Two men from Romania were found sleeping on the site in filthy conditions, with no hot water and no shower facilities or protective equipment.

‘HSE staff issued an immediate prohibition notice on the building to prevent workers from sleeping there again, due to lack of fire precautions. 

‘A Notification of Contravention (NoC) was also issued as the site did not have any hot running water, no means of heating food or flushing toilets.

‘Police are continuing with an investigation into potential offences of labour exploitation under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and partner agencies are being consulted to help prevent any further such exploitation in relation to the site.’

The seaside town’s sprawling TJ Hughes department store closed in 2019 and has been left empty since.

Detective Sergeant Sophie McGarel said ‘Labour exploitation is a concern in East Sussex, as elsewhere in the country, with reports of poor accommodation and no protective equipment being issued to workers.

Eastbourne’s TJ Hughes department store closed down in May 2019. Local police entered the building on Thursday and discovered people living in ‘filthy’ conditions

‘In such cases, pay is often low and workers are expected to work for long hours. Discovery, with its partnership agencies, is responding to reports and using all available powers in order to seek to shut companies down where necessary.’

The Romanian men were taken to a place of safety as investigations continued this weekend.

Discovery in East Sussex brings together local police officers, fire officers, Stop the Traffik Hastings, King’s Church and staff from Hastings and Rother Councils, DWP, HMRC, Home Office Immigration, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and local charities, all with the aim of seeing victims of modern slavery rescued and supported, and perpetrators brought to justice.

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