Around 260 victims of human trafficking linked to Leeds have been uncovered by police since 2015, a senior officer has revealed.
West Yorkshire Police, which has its own dedicated Human Trafficking Unit, has been uncovering increasing numbers of people brought into the county for forced labour, with two thirds coming from abroad.
We need to keep it going and get people to believe that it’s still there, and we’ve got a duty to look after these people, because it can’t be right.Warren Stevenson, West Yorkshire Police
The force says 36 per cent of victims are British, mostly victims of child sexual exploitation, while a large proportion of the rest are either trafficked from Poland to work in poor conditions or from Romania to be sexually exploited.
The LS9 postcode area, which takes in several parts of east Leeds, is one of two in West Yorkshire which sees high numbers of victims because of its back-to-back housing stock and the type of work available.
The force has already secured a ten-year slavery trafficking prevention order against David Zielinski, a key member of a ruthless slavery gang that trafficked vulnerable victims from their native Poland to Bradford to plunder their pay packets.
And Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, who leads the unit, said the force had reached an agreement with the Polish authorities for more orders, which stop traffickers from employing low-paid workers or organising their accommodation in their home country.
But it is feared that Brexit could put such arrangements at risk in future, as the UK’s exit from the European Union will stop it working in the same way with Eastern European countries.
Mr Stevenson said the figure of 260 victims include those who lived in Leeds, passed through the city or simply reported the offence to someone in Leeds.
But he appealed for people in the city to be on the look-out for victims of human trafficking at sites such as nail bars, car washes and takeaways, as the hidden nature of the crime meant it could be happening in front of their noses.
He said: “Our numbers are on the increase still, every year it will increase again, because we are better at looking, and we have just got to keep going.
“We need to keep it going and get people to believe that it’s still there, and we’ve got a duty to look after these people, because it can’t be right.”