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Modern slavery week of action in south west


Last week from 30 May to 3 June, five south west police forces took part in a pan-European week of action on modern slavery, looking particularly at labour exploitation. Operation Hornsman was a multi-agency initiative led by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The forces involved in the south west were Avon and Somerset Police, Devon and Cornwall Police, Dorset Police, Gloucestershire Constabulary and Wiltshire Police. The regional response was co-ordinated by Devon and Cornwall Police.

Avon and Somerset Police conducted a multi-agency visit to a car wash in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, on Thursday (2/6) involving police, HM Revenue & Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, UK Visas and Immigration, interpreters and the charity Unseen.

The visit was to check on the welfare and safeguarding of staff on site, as well as dealing with any offences discovered. One man was arrested in relation to immigration offences.

Other activities in the Avon and Somerset area included:

  • On Wednesday (1/6), multi-agency visits were made to a residential property in east Bristol following concerns over potential labour exploitation offences involving takeaways.  
  • Work continued on an investigation into potential slavery offences relating to a nail bar in Bath. A 47-year-old woman remains on bail for a slavery offence and money laundering. Officers are continuing to seek specialist CPS advice on potential charges and an application for a slavery and trafficking risk order. 

Avon and Somerset PCC Sue Mountstevens said: “It’s hard to imagine that in this day and age slavery still exists however the sad truth is that it does.  That is why it is more important than ever that we must continue to fight to eradicate human trafficking and exploitation for good. 

“We’re fortunate in Avon and Somerset to have some fantastic charities, partner agencies and individuals in the Constabulary who continually work together to tackle this very serious issue.  This week of action highlights how seriously the Constabulary and I take the issue.

“I will continue to fund the charity ‘Unseen UK’ to support victims of these crimes including being part of operations like this week’s Operation Hornsman. By working together we can be a louder voice for all those who are trafficked and exploited.” 

Det Ch Insp Mike Williams, Force lead for modern slavery and human trafficking for Avon and Somerset Police, said:“Modern slavery offences are happening today in our neighbourhoods, communities, towns and cities.

“Public awareness surrounding these crimes is increasing but we all need to do more to spot the signs so we can help identify people at risk. If something doesn’t feel or look right, then it probably isn’t.

“We’re totally focussed on breaking the vicious cycle of exploitation and giving victims the confidence to speak to police and expose offenders so they can be brought to justice.”

Kate Garbers, managing director of charity Unseen, said: “Our staff joined police and other partners on multi-agency visits in Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire.

“We attended and presented at briefings to highlight the key indicators and signs of slavery and were available on site to speak to anyone who officers were concerned about, to outline the assistance and support available.

“Unseen has also been involved through the Anti-Slavery Partnership (ASP) in creating a guide to be used for multi-agency visits.”

There was additional activity in neighbouring Force areas:

Devon and Cornwall Police worked with local authorities, immigration, HMRC and the Red Cross. Multi-agency visits were made to nail bars in Torbay and Exeter on the 31 May and 2 June, and neighbourhood visits to car washes and nail bars in Plymouth throughout the week.

Approximately 50 police resources were deployed to 24 locations. Two people were arrested for modern slavery and money laundering offences and two for immigration offences. The suspects within the police investigations have been released on bail.

Three potential victims of modern slavery are being supported into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), operated by the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), which ensures that victims receive appropriate help and support. All are Vietnamese, two adult (one male, one female) and one male suspected to be under 18 years old.

Gloucestershire Constabulary conducted multi-agency visits to nail bars and car washes in Gloucester, Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean. Officers attended eleven locations, leading to the arrest of five Albanian nationals for immigration offences.

Wiltshire Police conducted multi-agency visits to nail bars, car washes and a farm in Swindon, Trowbridge and Salisbury. Officers attended twelve locations leading to thirteen arrests and the identification of one victim. 

Dorset Police conducted a multi-agency visit to a car wash in Poole. No arrests were made, but HMRC are continuing enquiries around pay and tax issues.

Chief Superintendent Jim Colwell of Devon and Cornwall Police, the force which co-ordinated activity across the region, said: “Modern slavery comes in different forms which includes labour exploitation. The priority for the police in the first instance is to safeguard victims. We also seek to disrupt criminal activity associated with modern slavery and prosecute those responsible where possible.

“The results from across the five force area have been very encouraging, particularly in respect of the excellent level of partnership working with other agencies on the ground and in increasing the understanding of modern slavery within the police.”

Ch Supt Colwell added: “Victims may not regard themselves as being exploited, and are often reluctant to talk to police. If anyone suspects modern slavery is happening in their area we urge them to contact the police.”

If you suspect that modern slavery is taking place please call 101 or visit our website. Information can also be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers, by calling 0800 555 111 or reporting online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

The Crimestoppers website www.readthesigns.co.uk contains a guide on recognising the signs of labour exploitation and modern slavery.
Posted on Monday 6th June 2016
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