A farm worker, 40, who was feared to have been murdered five years ago has been found alive living in Cambridgeshire woods, it was revealed today.
Ricardas Puisys, who is from Lithuania, made what police described as a ‘very well concealed’ home for himself in deep undergrowth off a residential street in Wisbech.
The 40-year-old had gone missing in September 2015 from his work at a leek farm 20 miles away in Chatteris with detectives fearing he had been murdered.
Concerns for his safety had been raised the previous month when it was suggested he was being exploited, and a murder investigation was launched in November 2015.
A 31-year-old man from Wisbech was arrested in December 2015 on suspicion of murder and taken into custody, but later released with no further action.
Two areas of woods have been regularly used by Eastern Europeans living in in an array of tents and makeshift shelters in recent years.
It is believed other men sleeping living rough in the two areas either did not know of his existence or were seemingly unaware that he was supposed to be dead.
Residents of the street today spoke of their anger about rough sleepers and gangs of street drinkers congregating in the woods and causing a nuisance.
One group who had lived in woodland owned by the National Trust were successfully evicted last year, leaving behind piles of of debris which had to be cleaned up by council workers.
Concerns for him had first been raised in August 2015 when a local resident told police they suspected he was being exploited and was being forced to move between addresses within Wisbech.
Police spoke to Mr Puisys at his home but he told them he was fine.
He was known to have left work at the Nightlayer Leek Company in Chatteris on September 26, 2015 and then joined a group of Lithuanian men in the evening.
The alarm was raised when he failed to turn up for a shift two days later and his identification badge was found in a park.
Cambridgeshire Police finally discovered Mr Puisys living in the woods off Harecroft Road on July 1, but delayed announcing that he had been found until today so they could ensure he was in a place of safety.
They announced today that they believe he had effectively been a victim of ‘modern slavery’.
Keith Dorman, 59, who lives in Harecroft Road said he had battled to get one group of campers evicted last year from the National Trust woods opposite his bungalow.
He said: ‘It was awful when they were here and it took almost a whole year to get them kicked off. They were defecating in the woods and leaving all their rubbish piled up.
‘Mothers used to walk through the woods with their children, but these guys would be exposing themselves and urinating. It was very unpleasant.
‘They were living in tents and shelters, and chopping down the trees for firewood and building materials. They were p***ed most of the time.
‘It started off as one or two of them, but the numbers grew. At one stage there was a dozen of them sitting around drinking together. It was like a party.’
He added: ‘I followed one guy who was staggering to a local shop to buy booze and he fell over three times on the way.
‘I told the shopkeeper that he should not be serving someone in that state and he replied that he would be threatened if he refused to sell them alcohol.’
‘I got in touch with the police first, but they said they couldn’t do anything because they were not committing an offence.
‘Then I got in touch with Fenland Council and a local councillor, but they could not do much because the land was owned by the National Trust.
‘The councillor told me they were all in work, but I said that was irrelevant. He also said that they had been offered alternative accommodation, but didn’t want it as they were happy living rent free.’
Mr Dorman also said he phoned the National Trust ‘four or five times’ and was initially told it would be ‘too expensive to do anything about’ but carried on pursuing them, before ‘getting through to someone in authority’ who told him they were in the process of getting a court order.
‘Finally the police arrived mob handed and they were all booted off. Three vans from Fenland Council turned up the next day and they sent over a day cleaning up all the mess.
‘There were old beds, sleeping bags, empty food containers, bottles and cans and all kinds of rubbish.’
Mr Dorman said he had seen men living rough in the second area of woods in the road, and even sleeping under a tarpaulin stretched over a ditch on the side of the road.
He said: ‘It is common to see these sights in Wisbech. There is hardly any area of woods or common land in the town were people have not been rough sleeping.
‘Others have tried to return to the woods since the eviction last year. I found one guy there and I made it plain to him that he had to leave, and he went off somewhere else.’
Another resident who asked not to be named added: ‘It was a real problem last year. People living in the woods were causing a nuisance, particularly with the stench from their camp fires.
‘They were all working because I was told that they would be picked up vans each day and taken to jobs. But they preferred living rough so they did not have to pay rent and had more money to spend on drink.’
At the time he went missing, Mr Puisys did not have a car or close family in the UK and spoke little English.
He was still presumed dead in August 2018 when a Facebook profile was found with his name, picture and 69 friends, all of whom were his friends and relatives.
Investigations found a phone number linked to the account but detectives could not trace the owner, and police discovered the page was being managed from Wisbech.
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Hall said today: ‘For almost five years Ricardas’ disappearance has been a complete mystery. That was until we received information at the end of June which led us to finding him.
Mr Hall said there had been ‘genuine concerns’ that he had come to harm on the evening he was last seen.
Mr Hall went on: ‘He did not return to work on September 28, 2015 as expected, but we now believe Ricardas made the decision to run away as he had been a victim of crime, having previously been subject to exploitation.
‘A team of investigators worked tirelessly following up a number of inquiries, none leading to the discovery of Ricardas. That was until we received information that Ricardas may have been alive and still in the Wisbech area.
‘Following a search of wooded area in Harecroft Road, Ricardas was eventually found living in undergrowth, very well concealed after having deliberately hidden and having not spoken with anyone for some time.’
Officers said they decided not to publicly announce that had found him alive until today to protect him and put safeguarding measures in place.
Mr Hall added: ‘He is safe and we are working very closely with him to ensure he remains safe, but also to ensure he gets the support he needs after having lived through extremely difficult circumstances during the last five or more years.’
Police said an investigation into potential exploitation had been launched and a team of detectives were now working their way through various inquiries.