A Ukrainian refugee reported a mother for modern-day slavery after the woman who took her in asked her to clean the dishes. Hannah Debenham, 42, welcomed the lodger and her then 10-year-old daughter into her Sussex home this summer as she escaped Russia’s brutal invasion. But the NHS mental health nurse said a complaint lodged to police by the refugee led to an upsetting two-month investigation that could have ruined her career.
Local police received the complaint in the summer of this year that alleged the woman was “expected to clear up and tidy up the house for little to no money under the disguise of the Ukrainian settlement scheme”.
Officers followed up the complaint by requesting the Uckfield mum-of-two “voluntarily” attend Eastbourne police station in July.
MailOnline reported that she was questioned by a modern-day slavery inspector, and that police also approached her husband.
Police ultimately dropped the investigation after finding no evidence, but it has left a lasting impression on Ms Debenham, who has warned people to think twice before accepting strangers into their homes.
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She told the MailOnline: “It was just devastating, we just wanted to help – if I was charged I would have had to declare that and it would have been a permanent impediment to my career.
“They also spoke to my husband and told him that I could face life in prison if I was found guilty.
“I’ve been an NHS mental health specialist for 15 years and I have often worked with people with severe mental illness supporting their needs in police custody, and this happening to me was the worst experience of my life.”
She added that her lodgers showed “no gratitude, no care and no respect”.
Ms Debenham and her family agreed that the refugee woman and her child would stay with them via the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme earlier this year.
She had found the woman – who claimed she was an English teacher – online, and they struck up an arrangement for her to live in the UK.
The families agreed they could stay, provided she babysit for three days a week.
The arrangement stipulated that the woman would receive £200 for her work.
While the report filed to Sussex Police claimed she was “required to perform forced or compulsory labour”, the informant never provided a statement or assisted police with the investigation.
Gavin Patch, Sussex Police Detective Chief Inspector, defended the investigation.
In a statement, the police service found “insufficient evidence for a prosecution” and decided to take no further action.
Sussex Police said: “Sussex Police received a report on July 20 of a person being required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
“The informant was a woman with a young daughter who had arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
“On July 26, a woman from Uckfield, who had offered to host the pair, was invited to attend a voluntary interview at Eastbourne police station with her solicitor on August 16. She was not arrested.
“Following that interview, the informant was approached on several occasions to provide a full statement, but was not willing to assist with further enquiries or to provide a formal account.
“As a result, it was judged that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution and no further action would be taken. The woman’s solicitor was advised the same day of the decision.”