Traffickers are targeting vulnerable Eastern Europeans with online adverts or approaching them at homeless shelters and soup kitchens before tricking them into forced labour, a West Yorkshire police dossier has revealed.
A report by a senior officer in the county, which is considered a “destination of choice” for traffickers and has its own police unit dedicated to tackling the problem, said the number of recorded modern slavery offences nearly doubled last year.
Analysis shows the suspects involved in the trade in human misery in the region are likely to be aged between 30 and 39 and from either the Czech Republic, UK, Poland, Slovakia or Hungary.
And according to West Yorkshire Police, the way victims are recruited and brought over to the UK reflects the national picture, where vulnerable people are “targeted due to their poor socio-economic circumstances and being a promised a better life in the UK”.
The report provides another insight into a form of crime that is seen as an increasing priority by the Government and across Yorkshire, after years where local agencies did not have the expertise to deal with it.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, who leads the West Yorkshire unit, set out in the report how gangs would target their intended victims in their home countries, and sometimes in other parts of the UK.
Popular methods of initial contact with vulnerable individuals nationally include online adverts and direct contact in places such as homeless shelters or soup kitchens.Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson
He said: “Popular methods of initial contact with vulnerable individuals nationally include online adverts and direct contact in places such as homeless shelters or soup kitchens.
“Although many victims in West Yorkshire have detailed similar meeting points, in particular on Facebook or in parks where the homeless or heavy drinkers are often known to frequent.
“More often (60 per cent of West Yorkshire victims) knew the recruiter directly or indirectly prior to the suggestion of going to the UK. The relationships can be that of acquaintance, to family member or spouse.”
West Yorkshire Police saw a 94 per cent rise in the number of modern slavery offences recorded last year, with more than a third involving child sexual exploitation.
Of those brought to West Yorkshire for forced labour, where they work for low wages and are often made to live in cramped accommodation, construction and property maintenance is the most likely form of employment.
Cannabis cultivation, car wash work and employment in restaurants or takeaways is also common, though there were no reports of the latter before last year.
Det Chief Insp Stevenson wrote: “Most reported offences of Sexual Exploitation are from victims who have been forced or coerced into prostitution, victims who are willing to work as prostitutes, but are being exploited due to their pay and conditions and furthermore are frequently unwilling to raise complaints.”
Excluding child sex offences, there are currently 14 live human trafficking operations and 81 live crimes being investigated within West Yorkshire.
Nationally, there were nearly 4,000 victims of modern slavery reported by the authorities last year, from 108 countries of origin.
West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has set up an anti-trafficking and modern slavery network to ensure agencies around the county work better together to tackle modern slavery.