Ricardas Puisys was last seen leaving work at a fruit and vegetable supplier in the town of Chatteris, the Cambridgeshire Constabulary said in a statement Monday. Police believe the 35-year-old gathered with other men from his native Lithuania after work that night, but was never seen again. Following his disappearance, police launched a murder investigation, fearing the worst.
"There were genuine concerns Ricardas came to harm that evening," Detective Chief Inspector Rob Hall said in the statement. "He did not return to work on Monday, 28 September 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."
Police searched for Puisys for years without success, until a recent tip led them to search a wooded area in the nearby town of Wisbech on July 1.
There, Hall said, "Ricardas was eventually found living in undergrowth, very well concealed after having deliberately hidden and having not spoken with anyone for some time. We made the decision not to publicly announce we had found Ricardas alive until now in order to protect him and put safeguarding measures in place."
Detectives from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit are now investigating whether Puisys was a victim of exploitation.
"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," Hall added.
Cambridgeshire police urged people to visit their website to learn about the signs of exploitation and modern-day slavery so they can report it and help those who may be experiencing it.