West Yorkshire Police and the PCC mark Anti Slavery Day (18 Oct 2017)

Human _traffickingMore than 140 potential victims of modern day slavery have been rescued by West Yorkshire Police this year.

And the Force has for the first time used a new power designed to safeguard vulnerable people.

Officers from across the Force joined partners including members of the Human Trafficking Unit and the Office of the Police Crime Commissioner in a series of operations across the county.

The operations, which remain on going, were run to improve intelligence and understanding about the crime and to rescue any potential victims. Officers and partners visited a number of business premises thought to have links to human trafficking to speak to the employers and employees.

Business owners were reminded about their obligations under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act, 2015 and the people working for them were reminded of their rights with checks made to ensure they were not the victim of trafficking.

And as part of the operations two interim Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders were issued to people. It is the first time the Force has used the power.

The orders, which are agreed by a Magistrate, ban those served with them from communicating with named individuals identified as potential trafficking victims. They can also place restrictions on travel and where people live.

If those orders are breached then the potential punishment is up to five years in prison.

Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson leads the West Yorkshire Human Trafficking Unit.

"Modern Day Slavery is a crime many people don't think exists - that it somehow only happened in a bygone era.

"But nothing could be further from the truth. It is happening and is potentially happening in your area.

"The operations we have already carried out were very successful in as much as they helped our officers to build a clearer picture of the crime and its impact in West Yorkshire.

"It also sent a very clear message to anyone thinking of trafficking victims that we are on to them.

"We also rescued potential victims and took people we suspect of trafficking them out of their lives.

"Human Trafficking can be a very difficult crime to investigate as victims rarely see themselves as a victim. As a Force we act on the intelligence we receive but then need time to speak to people about their ordeal and explain to them why they are a victim.

"Previously we have found victims almost brainwashed by the gangmasters who have conditioned them to believe that what they are doing is somehow OK and perfectly normal.

"They are told it is perfectly fine to have their passports taken from them and for their wages earned or benefits claimed to be paid into someone else's bank account. They are told it is only right that they live in squalid conditions.

"That is where my team comes in - but it is often not a quick job. We need to sit down and discuss their situation with them and to offer them the help and guidance previously lacking.

"An interim order removes them from a potentially threatening situation and allows us to fully investigate what is happening in their life

"It is just one of the powers at our disposal and those who trade in human misery should always be watching over their shoulder and fearful of that knock on the door."

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner and National PCC lead said: "Tackling human trafficking and modern slavery are a priority for me and West Yorkshire Police, it's an area I have invested heavily in for a number of years based on threat, harm and risk. This is fantastic work from West Yorkshire Police and our partners in continuing to disrupt and raise awareness of modern slavery and is quite timely given that we have just had 'Safeguarding Week'.

"18th October is National Anti-Slavery Day which aims to raise awareness of these issues. We absolutely need our communities help to stop these awful crimes against human rights from taking place and the slightest piece of information can be crucial.

"Modern slavery robs it's victims of their dignity, assets, freedom, health, a lot of things we all take for granted and as a given. It may seem an easy crime to overlook or not recognise, but I would ask everyone to think about the conditions and situations these human beings are being forced to live in and report anything suspicious as soon as possible.

"General indicators of modern slavery can include signs of physical or psychological abuse, fear of authorities, no ID documents, poor living conditions and working long hours for little or no pay. I would urge anyone with any suspicions to report them to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 where specialist advice and information can be handled appropriately."

The series of operations began in Wakefield on Friday 15 September.

A team of police officers, PCSOs and partners including the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Wakefield Council, and the Home Office visited premises in Wakefield thought to be potentially employing victims of trafficking.

Hope 4 Justice and the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) also provided help.

In Leeds a team of police officers and partners visited two addresses on 28 September to gather intelligence.

A similar operation took place in the Bradford area on 25 September and in Calderdale area on 3 October

Further operations including in the Kirklees area are planned for the future

DCI Stevenson added:

"I am very pleased with how these operations went and the information they have helped to develop. A lot of it is work I cannot disclose but that has helped to shine a light on this murky world - work is continuing - much of it out of sight."

© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2019