Public Urged to Help in the Fight Against Modern Slavery

Monday, 11th January, 2021

Members of a specialist team dedicated to rescuing slavery victims and bringing those responsible for the trade in human misery to justice are urging members of the public to be their “eyes and ears” and know how to spot potential signs of the crime.

Through Programme Precision (which sees the Force work with partners to tackle serious and organised crime) West Yorkshire Police’s Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Team is doing all it can to make an impact.

And the team has had some notable successes – with the number of arrests for suspected trafficking crimes increasing and the number of potential victims referred to the National Referral Mechanism  (NRM) also increasing (the NRM is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support).

Various operations have been carried out across the Force area by the team.

A recent operation saw cocaine and heroin and cash recovered and three males charged with drugs offences.

Human trafficking and modern slavery offences are usually linked to other forms of serious and organised crime and the Force will use all legislation to target offenders.

In 2019 there were 72 arrests for modern slavery offences – a figure that increased to 78 in 2020.

And it was in the area of safeguarding victims that the Force really helped make a difference with a 35% increase from 2019 to 2020 in the number of referrals to the NRM (110 in 2019, 149 in 2020).

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaffney is in charge of the Force’s Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Team.

“Through Programme Precision we are doing all we can to bring offenders to justice and to safeguard victims – but there is always more we can do

“We know this awful crime is one that is under-reported even as people’s understanding of it increases – it is one of the few crimes where an increase in the number of victims we find is in many ways a positive – we know there are more victims out there – but we need people to help by passing us the information which we can then act on.

“I would urge everyone to stop and think for a second – slavery is still happening today and it could be happening on your street or in your workplace. Victims continue to be vulnerable to exploitation during this pandemic and urge you to continue to keep looking for victims in the communities around you.

“So I want to appeal directly to everyone to help my team continue to make a difference by knowing some of basic signs of modern slavery and human trafficking. If you see something suspicious or that simply doesn’t feel right then please let us know – it might be nothing – but it might also be the final piece of the jigsaw that helps us to rescue a victim from a life of sexual and / or domestic servitude.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson, who is also the national lead for tackling Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery said:

“Human trafficking and modern day slavery remains a threat both nationally and locally, which is why it is crucially important that we continue to highlight awareness of its existence.

“The ongoing international pandemic has not removed this horrendous activity and may even be used by criminals as a smoke screen to divert attention.

“Not only can it have a traumatic and life-long impact upon its victims, but those involved in human trafficking often have links to other serious organised crime and have no regard for human life. 

“West Yorkshire has already led the way regionally and nationally for a number of years in tackling human trafficking and modern day slavery. I worked closely with West Yorkshire Police to establish and invest in a dedicated team back in 2014 and it’s great to see them go from strength to strength.

“More recently, I have personally worked with partners to set up a ground-breaking seven Force commitment with the respective PCCs in Yorkshire and North East to help prevent exploitation within supply chains and business activities.

“I will continue to push for further measures to be put in place to ensure victims are fully supported and provided with appropriate accommodation once safeguarded.

“They are among the most vulnerable and it’s right that they are properly protected and supported to help recover from the cruel trauma of their exploitation and abuse.”

Signs include (but are not limited to)

On your street

  • People in a house appearing isolated or secretive?
  • Do more people appear to be living in the house than would normally be expected?
  • Are the house windows covered from the inside?
  • Do the people that live in a house get collected / taken to work early in the morning and returned late at night
  • If you have spoken to someone from the house – do they know who they work for? Have they had their passports and other documentation taken from them?
  • Do people living in the house appear to be malnourished? Do they wear the same clothes all of the time?

In your workplace

  • Requirement to pay for tools and food
  • Seem under control, told not to speak to others
  • Picked up in a van, same time same place every day
  • Excessive work hours/few breaks
  • Exploitation in this case can occur in various industries including construction, manufacturing, car washes, laying driveways, hospitality, food packaging, agriculture, maritime and beauty (nail bars).
  • Work conditions for victims are usually poor i.e. not provided with protective clothing and the area of work being unsafe.
  • Control mechanisms are used to keep workers from leaving for example, withholding important documents
  • Withholding of wages or excessive wage reductions
  • Pay that is less than minimum wage

If you have reason to suspect trafficking or human exploitation, please report information and intelligence to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

If it is an emergency call police on 999.

DCI Gaffney added: “We will not tolerate this behaviour in our communities – it is not acceptable to treat people as commodities - and the more people can help us to help victims and bring those responsible to justice, the more of an impact we can have.”


Video message from DCI Fiona Gaffney; 

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