A new taskforce is being set up to crack down on the scourge of human trafficking in Leeds, the YEP can reveal.
The news comes as alarming figures show police in West Yorkshire responded to more human trafficking cases than anywhere else outside London in the first three months of 2014.
Council chiefs, West Yorkshire Police and agencies from across Leeds are joining together to draft a strategy to tackle the impact of trafficking in the city.
But officials have today warned it is hard to know the full scale of trafficking across West Yorkshire.
There are fears the number of victims who have been saved from the grips of ruthless traffickers are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Dozens of vulnerable people, who have been hidden across West Yorkshire, have been rescued from sexual exploitation, cheap labour or domestic servitude over the last two years.
And today one of those victims shares his harrowing story of a false promise of a new life with the YEP.
It was the promise of a new life to support his family that lured Thom to West Yorkshire.
The devoted father, who was struggling to find work in his native country, saw an advertisement on a website for a job in England.
The opportunity promised travel, accommodation and a regular wage of £160 per week.
Applicants were assured that it didn’t matter if they did not speak any English.
For Thom, not his real name, it seemed like the chance for a fresh start to provide a new life for his family – but the reality of the situation painted a much more sinister picture.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post Thom said: “We were flown over and taken to the house we would be living in.
“The state of the house was horrendous.
“It was dirty and smelly and the people looked like zombies.
“I could smell marijuana.
“He told us to sit down and wait and someone else was going to pick us up and take us to the place where we were going to stay.
“Me and my friend were growing more suspicious and decided that if it wasn’t what we were expecting then we should get out.
“We got to the house and the people there looked really awful.
“We started to talk to other people, they said for at least two months you won’t get paid a penny.
“If you complain to the trafficker, then he will deduct even more money or beat you up as well.
“We would also be expected to work weekends which we wouldn’t get paid for.
“These people in the house said that after paying the trafficker his commission we will probably have £30 per week.
“I said how can I support my family back home?
“They just laughed at me and said they all had families back home but after they moved to the UK they got divorced and lost everything back home.”
But for Thom his life spiralled into misery and he was desperate to get away from his life of forced labour.
He was given a lifeline from charity Hope for Justice.
Thom said: “I decided to seek help when I was out of options – I tried everything to get out of my situation but it was incredibly difficult because I did not speak English very well.
“I have a really good relationship with my wife and children, and so I didn’t want to end up being homeless and just drinking and being on the streets – I wanted to be with my family.”
The charity is just one of a number of agencies set to work closely with Leeds City Council to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery in the city.
A new strategy, which will be drafted by November, aims to raise awareness, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.
It comes after West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and Hope For Justice revealed plans to create the West Yorkshire Anti-Trafficking Network after receiving £200,000 of funding from the Ministry for Justice.
Allan Doherty, director of operations at Hope for Justice, was the divisional commander in Aireborough and said it wasn’t until he joined the charity that he realised the extent of human trafficking.
He said: “The crime of human trafficking is a hidden crime unless the police or other agencies proactively go out and look for it.
“A lot of people don’t understand it or believe it is a big problem.
“People are frightened to say anything to the police and they are frightened of the threats made to their families back home.
“I was surprised. I was the commander and amazed as to how many victims there are.
“Many more are never found and they are hidden away in dark corners.
“Some victims don’t even realise themselves that they are victims of trafficking.
“We have had examples where victims have gone to authorities to seek help and they didn’t recognise them as a victim. It is a huge opportunity wasted.”
And he said the impacts of the crime have a devastating effect on its victims.
“They find themselves in hopeless situations where they are worked like dogs,” he added.
“They are unable to prove to the authorities who they are because their passports have been taken off them which means they cannot access state benefits or help. They live under the radar.
“When you first meet a victim they are broken people. They are empty shells.”
Almost 50 victims of human trafficking are discovered in the UK each week and West Yorkshire Police responded to more human trafficking cases than anywhere else outside London in the first three months of 2014.
But officials have warned they are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “I don’t think anyone exactly knows the scale of this.
“Sadly it exists in more places than we would care to imagine.
“It could be there are huge numbers of people living in and coming out of a property and someone’s dental hygiene is often a sign where someone is kept under lock and key.
“The level of exploitation is an abuse of their human rights and the sexual exploitation in some instances is quite shocking in today’s society.
“Sadly a lot of victims are being given a picture of a new life coming over from Eastern Europe but when they get here it is the exact opposite.
“Unfortunately human trafficking is an issue which exists within West Yorkshire and that fact cannot be ignored,”
Tom Riordan, Leeds City Council’s chief executive, said: “We want to adopt an approach which sends out the message very clearly that as a city we will not tolerate in any form this type of exploitation and that all powers at our disposal will be taken with partners to put a stop to it.”
Detective chief inspector Andy Williams, West Yorkshire Police’s force lead for human trafficking, said: “Human Trafficking is a vile offence and tackling it is very much a priority.
“The notion that offences akin to slavery are taking place in 21st century Britain is quite simply unacceptable and we are working to detect, arrest and prosecute those behind this.
“We can only succeed in bringing suspects to justice with the support of residents in communities, and I would ask anyone who thinks they may have seen evidence of people being kept in forced labour to contact us.
“The support is there for you to break free.”
* Visit hopeforjustice.org.uk or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.