Modern slavery victims double
‘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.