When university lecturer Pritbal Binning and her husband Palvinder moved to their five-bedroom country mansion in Chilworth, UK, they knew the place needed a bunch of work done. Nevertheless, the couple felt it was worth the purchase price of $1.5 million and were prepared to take on the building project.
The Polish immigrant the couple hired to help them had no idea what he was in for…
The Polish man in his 40s, who has not been named by authorities for legal reasons, had moved to the UK a decade ago to better his lot in life. At one point, the man met the Binnings and was somehow talked into living in their garden shed on a sun lounger and with no toilet in exchange for carrying out building works to their property. His conditions were similar to those of a slave and highly illegal in Britain.
Home Sweet Home
No one should have to live the way this man lived for the best part of four years. The shed, located at the end of the couple’s garden, had nothing but a plastic sun lounger and a small fridge and barbecue for a kitchen. To make matters even more disturbing, the man was given out of date food and often became sick from the unhygienic environment he was living in.
At one point, the man decided he could stand it no longer, and one day he took himself to the local Labour Abuse Authority to tell someone about his dire situation. When he told the officer on duty that he had no flushing toilet and nowhere to shower, the officer was shocked and decided to take immediate action.
The Binnings would be considered middle class by any standards, and some would say they were outright wealthy. Pritbal was a university lecturer at the University of Southampton Faculty of Health Sciences. She described her area of expertise as an “Adult Nursing specializing respiratory, cardiovascular and high dependency care.” Not the type one would expect to keep a slave in her garden shed.
Both Pritbal and her husband are high achievers. Having both moved to the UK more than 20 years ago as immigrants themselves, the Binnings know what hard work and starting from nothing is all about. That fact makes this case even more troubling on a number of levels. Pritbal was even commended in her University newsletter a few years ago.
While Palvinder worked for a successful software company for many years in a stable job, Pritbal was above average and received praise for that in her University newsletter. At the back of the publication, Pritbal was thrilled when she read, “Congratulations to Pritpal Binning who has passed her Masters in Education with a stunning 82 percent.”
Chilworth, near to Southhampton is an affluent leafy village which is home to some famous people and a number of well-known footballers. The Binnings were friendly with most of their neighbors and cordial with others, but people who knew them were shocked that they kept a slave in their shed for all these years and no one even knew about it.
Work for Food
When the man visited his nearby NHS walk-in health centre, as well as explaining his living conditions, he also told staff that he literally had to work for food and often went hungry. On one occasion when he stopped to chat with a neighbor over the fence, Mrs Binning screamed at him and ordered him to get back to work.
To make matters even worse, the Binnings were not short of a penny or two. Reporters and photographers noted that the five-bedroom property was under renovation after four workmen were spotted inside the grounds of the estate having started a breeze block extension. That extension is not going to be a bedroom for the Polish man who could have remained a slave to the couple had he not visited the abuse center.
To compliment their mansion and add to their lifestyle, the Binnings had two fast cars parked in their driveway. One was a two-door Lexus and the other a BMW, and the cars are further proof that this couple lived the good life while a man sat shivering in their garden shed for years on end.
A next-door neighbor who also remained nameless told reporters, according to the Daily Mail: “The most recent building started about October last year, when they had some scaffolding put up which came about 3ft onto my land so I rang Palvinder about it,” she said. “They have had quite a few Eastern European men doing building work around the property, and I initially thought that this man I kept seeing was one of them,” she added.
The fact that all the workers were from Eastern Europe meant that the couple was cutting corners at every possible opportunity as those laborers work for significantly less than British people. The neighbor noticed the Polish man, who she said was there more than the other workers. “I would see him more than the other workers, I would see him walking along the road outside the house,” said the neighbor.
According to the same neighbor, who said she considers the Binnings as friends, also explained that the couple has other sources of income. “I believe Pritpal runs a wedding business as well and she has a lot of wedding paraphernalia, which she had been keeping in a neighbour’s garage,” she explained. “But when that property was sold, she had to move it all back to her house. I saw this man, who was about 40, moving it all for her,” she said.
A former schoolmate of Mr. Binning who was contacted by reporters under condition of anonymity said he was in complete disbelief about the story involving his old friend. “I haven’t spoken to him for a while, but he was a really decent chap, a stand-up bloke. I am sure he wouldn’t have been involved in anything like this,” he said.
The GLAA, Britain’s anti-slavery body, was sent to the home to investigate the allegations fully. Footage taken there shows GLAA officers searching the freezing shed and sifting through piles of clothing against the back wall. There’s no question that this man lived in squalid conditions uncommon in 21st century Britain.
Tony Byrne, senior investigating officer at the GLAA, also spoke to reporters about the case. “In the 21st century, no one should be forced to live in such degrading and disgusting conditions,” he said. He also heaped praise on the walk-in center that dealt with the initial complaint. “I would also like to praise the NHS staff who reported their concerns. It’s really important that people get in touch if they believe someone is being exploited,” he said.
According to Test Valley District Commander Chief Inspector Kory Thorne, “Instances of modern-day slavery in the Test Valley are rare. However, when information is received suggesting someone is being subjected to modern-day slavery, we will work with partner agencies to investigate and where necessary take action against those people responsible.”
A neighbor also spoke to reporters, explaining that to his mind they were a “nice” couple. “I did go round there once, a few years back. They’ve lived here for at least 20 years – they were certainly nice when I went round there,” he said. “It’s shocked me hearing what was reported to have happened. I have seen a white guy walking past my house with a trailer full of rubbish.”
As part of the UK’s National Referral Mechanism, the man has now been admitted to a system set up to help people in these situations to escape slavery and start a new life. The UK is a global leader in the fight against slavery, having passed tough anti-trafficking law in 2015. Although more needs to be done to ensure that people, especially immigrants, don’t end up living in freezing sheds.
Byrne from the GLAA confirmed that the couple had been arrested and released on bail while a full investigation is carried out. If charged, the couple could face serious fines and even jail time due to the serious nature of the allegations against them. While they await the outcome of that investigation, the man is said to be doing well and is currently living in temporary accommodation provided by the local council.