Modern slavery and human trafficking have 'no place in 21st century Britain' - West Yorkshire Police detective
and live on Freeview channel 276
It comes after a JPIMedia investigation revealed no charges have been brought for more than 19,000 of the slavery and trafficking crimes recorded nationwide since landmark legislation was passed, with suspects facing action in fewer than one in 20 cases.
The analysis of Home Office data showed just 4.4 per cent of modern slavery offences recorded by English and Welsh police forces between 2015 and September 2020 resulted in a charge.
In West Yorkshire, only 52 of the 1,150 offences recorded in that period have resulted in a charge – a rate of 4.5 per cent.
Detective Superintendent Carl Galvin, from West Yorkshire Police's Protective Services (Crime) team, said: "Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are abhorrent crimes that trade in human misery. They have no place in 21st century Britain.
"They are also crimes which we treat incredibly seriously and we are doing everything we can to not only bring offenders to justice but also to safeguard often vulnerable victims who are nothing more than a commodity in the eyes of their captors."
He said the force accepted that the charge rates for suspects arrested need to improve, adding: "We are working tirelessly with partners to identify the issues blocking prosecutions.
"There is no one reason for the rates and subsequently not one specific answer about what to do but such investigations often include multiple victims and suspects crossing both national and international boundaries."
Working with the county's police and crime commissioner, the force secured funding so that it could establish a dedicated human trafficking team in 2014.
It also has safeguarding and Programme Precision units based in each of the five policing districts who carry out local investigations in partnership with the human trafficking team.
In addition, officers have now been trained in the national modern slavery specialist investigators course.
Det Sup Galvin, who acts as the force lead for Programme Precision, said: "Such crimes can be extremely complex with people rescued often not identifying that they are in fact a victim of this crime and others for various reasons unwilling to support a prosecution.
"We recognise that enforcement is only part of the answer – rescuing victims from a miserable existence and then providing appropriate support is equally, if not more important.
"The crimes are also often part of a wider pattern of offending in other aspects of crime. That is why Programme Precision – which sees everyone at West Yorkshire Police working together and with key partners to tackle serious and organised crime – leads on our response."
He said it was not uncommon to find that those suspected of being involved in trafficking or slavery are also involved in drug dealing, weapons offences and other serious crimes.
"Our understanding of the crime – both throughout the public and as police officers – is also something that is rapidly improving," he said.
"We regularly run campaigns urging the residents of West Yorkshire to know the signs to watch out for in a crime that is often described as ‘hiding in plain sight.’
"Considerable work has also been carried out to further educate and improve awareness amongst police officers about the nature of the crimes.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to ask people to be our 'eyes and ears' and to let us know about potentially suspicious activity."
In a written statement admitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee's modern slavery inquiry in 2018, West Yorkshire said modern slavery has been assessed as the second highest risk to the force.
Offering a snapshot of the position at that time, it said 231 offences had been recorded in the 12 months to June 2018. The highest proportion of those offences had been recorded in West Yorkshire's two largest cities - Bradford and Leeds.
The force had made 78 arrests and charged 17 people with modern day slavery offences during 2017, with most cases centring around domestic child sexual exploitation.
It was aware of 11 human trafficking organised crime groups operating in the county at that time.
The statement said: "Aside from child sexual exploitation and abuse, forced labour continues to remain the most predominant form of exploitation within the West Yorkshire area. This is followed by criminal exploitation which has now overtaken sexual exploitation.
"We have seen an emerging area of arranged marriages and domestic servitude, criminal exploitation involving County Lines as well as an increase of forced labour victims in the construction and restaurant and takeaway arena."
The force had three Joint Investigations teams in place – two with Poland and one with Romania. It also had 11 modern slavery orders in place, including seven prevention orders, one interim prevention order and three interim risk orders.
The Modern Slavery Helpline can be called on 08000 121 700.
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.