Mod­ern slav­ery vic­tims dou­ble

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - News -

‘IT can hap­pen any­where and is of­ten hid­den in plain sight’ – a warn­ing sent out by po­lice in the West Coun­try af­ter the num­ber of sus­pected slav­ery vic­tims in the re­gion dou­bled in a year, writes Alex Ross.

A to­tal of 52 peo­ple - mainly from the UK and east­ern Europe - were iden­ti­fied and safe­guarded from mod­ern slav­ery by po­lice and coun­cils in the re­gion from July to Septem­ber this year.

This com­pares to 24 in the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pub­lished this week by the Na­tional Crime Agency.

Al­most all are vic­tims of labour ex­ploita­tion, which in­cludes fruit-pick­ing, agri­cul­tural work and car washes.

Devon and Corn­wall Po­lice re­ferred the most num­ber of peo­ple in the three-month pe­riod this year, safe­guard­ing 14 peo­ple, in­clud­ing three chil­dren.

Twelve of them were sus­pected vic­tims of labour ex­ploita­tion, with most from the UK and Ro­ma­nia.

Avon and Som­er­set and Wilt­shire forces both re­ferred 10 sus­pected vic­tims, Glouces­ter­shire six and Dorset three.

Wilt­shire Po­lice De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Jeremy Carter said: “Vic­tims have been iden­ti­fied on farms, pri­vate houses, trav­eller sites, con­struc­tion sites, fac­to­ries, car washes, nail bars, mas­sage par­lours.

“Our key mes­sage is that mod­ern slav­ery can hap­pen any­where and is of­ten hid­den in plain sight.

“Just be­cause Wilt­shire and a lot of the south-west is ‘leafy and quiet’ doesn’t mean this type of ex­ploita­tion isn’t hap­pen­ing.”

David Ge­orge, from the NFU, said: “This is mainly an is­sue for grow­ers who em­ploy sea­sonal work­ers.

“These days the use of labour on farms is pretty tightly reg­u­lated; if farm­ers use an agency to source work­ers they have to be li­censed by the Gang­mas­ter and Labour Abuse Au­thor­ity, plus to at­tract them you need to pay a good rate and pro­vide good fa­cil­i­ties.

“They may be found in the ru­ral com­mu­nity, but not of­ten on farms.”

Vic­tims are of­ten re­ferred in the first in­stance to po­lice and coun­cils by groups such as Un­seen UK, which launched a Mod­ern Slav­ery Helpline last year.

In 12 months the helpline re­ceived 2,785 calls re­lat­ing to 1,065 cases of mod­ern slav­ery.

Af­ter the Metropoli­tan Po­lice and the Es­sex force ar­eas, the high­est num­ber of calls came from Avon and Som­er­set Po­lice, with 74 cases flagged up.

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