Friday, 20 July 2012

Slavery, Unexplained Deaths and Unidentifiable Victims

This picture (Copyright Hertfordshire Constabulary via BBC News Website) is a forensic artist's reconstruction of a man whose body was found in Puttock Hill Woods, near Welwyn, Hertfordshire, on the 27th of March 1994. He was wearing blue overalls and had no identification, or meaningful personal effects, on him. He had died of heart disease, so his death didn't seem to be suspicious, and he had presumably been working with contractors who were doing some management and brush-clearance work on the woods. However, none of the contractors appeared to know who he was. (They simply cheerfully accepted that a stranger was willing to work alongside them, for no pay, until he dropped dead?)

Exhaustive inquires and television appeals by Hertfordshire Constabulary failed to identify this man, although they did have some success identifying the deceased in some other cold-case unexplained deaths.

In the light of the recent slavery case in Leighton Buzzard, and another similar one in Hampshire, where homeless, mentally-ill and mentally-handicapped men were abducted, held prisoner (sometimes for years) and forced to perform often back-breaking manual labour as their captors acted as construction site "groundworking contractors" as well as offering tarmacking and paving services to householders, not only in Beds, Bucks and Herts, but also, it appears in Skane and possibly other parts of Sweden, it's quite likely that the contractors who police spoke to, knew a lot more than they admitted to. However, since the man seemed to have suffered from nothing more than hard work, there was no particular reason, at the time, for police to be suspicious.

There is, now, a lot of reason to be suspicious, because apart from offences involved with servitude, not reporting a death and not ensuring the proper health and safety of a worker, the work regime and diet that we now know these slaves were subjected to, for very periods of time, coupled with denial of the freedom to seek medical care and advice, would give a slave with a normally treatable heart condition almost no chance of long-term survival. A jury might find that to be manslaughter, culpable homicide or even murder (if the denial of freedom and forced labour was so reckless of the man's well-being that any reasonable person would have expected it to lead to his death.) It would certainly be grounds to review whether judges should have life sentences available to them in servitude cases!

Men rescued from the Greenacres traveller's site by Bedfordshire Police, related that they had been threatened with violence and death if they attempted to escape, and that they were taunted by being told that the body of at least one former slave was buried in a nearby field. In that context, it's pretty obvious that a sick man would be taken somewhere where no-one would ask him reasonable questions with very awkward answers, and that a dead man might be buried, or left propped against a tree with no means of identification.

And since the police appeals to potential relatives were all about "a man working in outdoor trades" and this may well not have been what the victim was doing the last time his family heard about him, it's not totally surprising that the police television appeals drew a blank.

And a further body:

The skeletal remains of a man were found in Cardington lock a few years ago, following flood conditions on the river Great Ouse that required the lock gates to be opened at both ends to supplement the normal flood gates and spillway, which almost certainly mean that the body didn't actually start off where it was eventually found, and had been in the river, somewhere further upstream for months or years. (Pictures taken around the time of discovery, of side-channel just upstream of Penstock Weir and at Cardington Lock itself.) This man has never been identified, either, but the location is a mile or so downstream from a regular, if illegal, traveller's pitch in a riverside meadow near the Oasis Swimming Pool. A dead traveller is laid to rest with great ceremony and a great deal of emotion, quite possibly any forced labour travelling with them is treated with a good deal less gentle love and respect when they expire. Preventing a decent burial is a serious criminal offence in England, regardless of to what extent the accused contributed to the death.

NB: all navigation locks on the river Great Ouse have a steel visor gate on the upstream side and canal-type swing-gates on the downstream side. The latter are normally swung closed by any great flow of water, but provision is made for chaining them open during extreme flow conditions, allowing the visor gate to be raised and very high volumes of water to be discharged via the navigation channel. It is quite evident from the author's pictures what the chances are, of a sunken body staying where it was sunk once Cardington Lock has been opened to discharge water rather than for navigation purposes.

The final picture, above, shows that even the torrent coming through Cardington Lock was just a  small fraction of the total in the river at the time, this is the junction between the spillway channel to the right and the (normally idle) canoe slalom course, to the left, which doubles as an emergency flood relief channel. There are two further big discharge gates at "Cardington Sluice" and Penstock weir feeds water into a purpose-built flood relief channel, the "New Cut". A linking channel connects the top of the New Cut at Penstock, with the main river and navigation channel close to the meadows beside the Oasis pool. There's the force there to move a dead body a mile or two, not so much "over time" as quite suddenly in extreme flow and not at all in more normal conditions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They're finding more slaves here outside Tampa in the more rural areas, as well. Some talk of being drug-addicted (I can't recall which drug) (Tampa, FL U.S.)
The thing is that Florida is so racist and if they're not they want to get every last corner racist as that is MOST profitable and so they posed it as a black/white thing. But then many white slaves stepped forward. Oh and let's not forget our dirty filthy secret of treating our migrant workers like dirt as they pick our fields (worse than dirt) or even their own people in Mexico selling them to Florida "growers" and punishing them in ways they don't survive if it costs the Mexican drug lord or owner money. It's awful. It's hard to g4t your head around that people are so f'ing sick.