General public 'first line of defence' in tackling modern slavery

By agency reporter
January 18, 2018

The Local Government Association said latest official figures reveal a shocking increase of almost half (47 per cent) in the numbers of people referred as potential victims of modern slavery last summer, with 1,322 victims referred through July – September 2017, compared to 901 during the same period in 2016.

Overall, government figures estimate that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK. Victims are referred to the National Referral Mechanism, the UK’s framework for supporting victims.

The LGA, which represents 370 councils and all fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales, is calling for a “coherent, cross-sector” approach to tackling modern slavery.

It is hosting a series of events for councils, designed to equip them to be as effective as possible in tackling this issue. It will also be sharing its new Council Guide to Modern Slavery report, compiled alongside the office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, to increase awareness of modern slavery and provide clarity for councils on their role in confronting it.

Council leaders are also urging the public to familiarise themselves with tell-tale warning signs that could alert them to modern slavery happening in their local area. These include:

  • Large numbers of people being transported to properties in vans, minibuses or other large passenger vehicles early in the morning or late at night.
  • People who look as if they are being instructed or coached by somebody else, and whether or not they appear free to leave or move around their surroundings.
  • People who seem to have been deprived of food, water, medical care, sleep or other life necessities, or who may be bonded by debt or come across as if they are in a situation of dependence.

Members of the public who suspect that modern slavery may be happening in their local area are urged to contact the police or local authority, who have a duty to report it to the National Referral Mechanism, the body responsible for taking care of potential victims of modern slavery.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said, “Being forced into domestic servitude, being trafficked for work, or subject to exploitation is a horrendous fate, and one most of us can’t even imagine – but the sad truth is that there is a good chance that modern slavery is taking place in the towns, cities and villages where we live.

“Modern slavery can be hidden, often in plain sight; on our high streets, in local businesses and even in suburban streets. Our residents may be unwittingly using victims of modern slavery to wash their cars, paint their nails or lay their drives, unaware of the hell they are living through.

“Members of the public are our first line of defence when it comes to tackling this scourge, and we urge all our residents to be aware of the tell-tale warning signs of modern slavery, and report any concerns to police or their local authority.

“We all have a crucial role to play in helping tackle modern slavery, if we know what to look out for and what to do if we spot it. Tip-offs from residents can help councils work with partners to better tackle slavery and exploitation. A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living wretched lives at the hands of heartless gangmasters. We can all work together to stop criminals profiting from other people’s misery.

“Councils will not tolerate the exploitation of people in their communities and are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society.”

Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said, ““The important role that the public and local council staff can play in identifying and disrupting modern slavery crimes should not be underestimated. I have personally witnessed the real impact of a vigilant member of the public reporting their suspicions to a local authority.

Police raided a car-wash within weeks of the tip-off, identifying 12 potential victims of modern slavery in the process and arresting an individual on human trafficking offences. The trigger was one individual noticing the ill-health of those manning the car-wash. These tell-tale signs can sometimes be subtle, but they truly are the key to freeing victims and prosecuting perpetrators. We all have a responsibility to know the signs and to act.

This guide for councils is an important tool to ensure a consistent, robust response to modern slavery is embedded, and one that fits the seriousness of the crime. By working in partnership, local councils can play a significant part in bringing an end to modern slavery.”

Modern slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude, slavery, sexual and criminal exploitation. It also includes other forms of exploitation such as organ removal, forced begging, forced benefit fraud, forced marriage and illegal adoption. The LGA released several case studies to illustrate the nature and extent of the problem:

Peterstone, Newport – Darrell Simester, from Kidderminster, was picked up from the side of a dual carriageway whilst hitchhiking in South Wales. For the next 13 years, Darrell lived in a rat infested shed and a cold, squalid, caravan on the property of David Daniel Doran, and was made to work 16 hour days for no money with only a horse trough to wash in. In 2014, following a social media campaign by his family, Darrell’s family found him, and his trafficker was jailed for a period of four and a half years.

Brixton, London – Three women were rescued from a residential address in October 2013 having been detained against their will for more than 30 years. The perpetrator, a Maoist fanatic called Aravindan Barakrishnan, was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment. Rosie Davies, a 30 year old British woman is thought to have spent her whole life in confinement. 

Plymouth, Devon – Eight men were arrested on suspicion of trafficking persons into the UK for the purpose of labour exploitation. Police raided five properties across three neighbourhoods as part of Operation Triage. Eight victims were recovered along with 13 children, who were believed to have links with the suspects.

Nottingham - The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) investigated hand car wash businesses across Nottingham, and a worker suspected of being a victim of human trafficking was taken into the care of authorities, with a variety of other possible offences uncovered. Issues were discovered at a number of the city sites with investigations continuing into possible modern slavery offences as well as breaches of tax, National Minimum Wage and Health and Safety legislation. One victim was entered into the National Referral Mechanism.

Under the Modern Slavery Act, councils have a duty to notify the Home Office of any individual encountered in England and Wales who they believe is a suspected victim of slavery or human trafficking. 

Figures revealing a 47 per cent increase in referrals of modern slavery under the National Referral Mechanism, over the summer months between 2016 and 2017 are published by the National Crime Agency and can be found here

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

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