Police have launched a slavery investigation after two Romanian men were found living without any hot water, heating or flushing toilets in a derelict department store where they were working.
The men were found sleeping on mattresses on the upstairs floor of the empty former T J Hughes store where they were working to clear the site.
Police said officers found “filthy” conditions when they were called on Thursday to the former department store in Eastbourne, East Sussex, which has been empty since it closed in 2019.
The discovery comes less than a year after concerns over people working in slave-like conditions in textile factories in Leicester, with one MP saying a “conspiracy of silence” had allowed the situation to continue.
Sussex Police said concerns had been raised to authorities about the site in Eastbourne, where a rubbish clearance company from London had been called in to clear fixtures and fittings.
The force said two men were found sleeping in the building with no hot water, shower facilities or protective equipment.
The Health And Safety Executive (HSE) issued an immediate Prohibition Notice on the building to stop workers from sleeping there again, because of a 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.
An investigation has now been launched into potential offences of labour exploitation under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the force said.
Watch: The scale of modern slavery in Britain and around the world
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.
"In such cases, pay is often low and workers are expected to work for long hours.”
She said Discovery in East Sussex — which brings together organisations including the police, Home Office Immigration, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and local charities to help victims of modern slavery and bring perpetrators to justice — was responding to reports and using all available powers to try to shut companies down where necessary.
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