Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire | WYPCC

Slavery - the trade in human misery could be taking place on your doorstep

26th June 2020

Slavery is still happening in 21st century Britain – and the trade in human misery could be taking place right on your doorstep.

That is the stark warning from West Yorkshire Police and the Office of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

Both organisations are calling on people to stop and think for a minute and to act as the Force’s “eyes and ears” to help stop a crime that often hides in ‘plain sight’.

Led by the Force Programme Precision team, West Yorkshire Police and partners work together to identify and safeguard victims and arrest suspects.

It is thought those rescued represent only a small fraction of the number of people being trafficked and used as slaves. Throughout the UK, thousands of people from across the world are being exploited in conditions of slavery and the number of victims is increasing.

Victims are often forced into the sex industry / into committing criminal offences for their traffickers. They are usually controlled by fear, violence and debt bondage. Victims might be fleeing conflict or looking for economic, social or educational opportunities in the UK and criminals will prey on their desire for a better life. In reality, however, they are controlled and abused for profit by the criminals.

A National three-week long intensification period has commenced to this week, led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to increase information locally allowing Police and partners to take action. Since 2017, the NCA has led a series of multi-agency operational intensifications on different aspects of the MSHT threat. UK Policing have collaborated alongside law enforcement partners, government agencies, charities and NGOs in these activities, culminating in over 770 arrests and the safeguarding of over 1,200 potential victims.

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaffney is in charge of the Force’s Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Team which leads West Yorkshire Police’s fight against the crime.

“Modern day slavery and human trafficking are abhorrent crimes which simply have no place in society. They are crimes in which people are treated as commodities.

“Criminals are preying on often vulnerable people and subjecting them to often awful living and working conditions – but they aren’t doing this in some out of the way industrial estate where no one can see them.

“The criminals make money by making their slaves work to earn them (the gangmasters) money. They also have to house their victims so will often cram as many people as possible into squalid accommodation.

“So these vulnerable victims could be working where you work. Or they could be living on the same street as you.

“Slaves will often be used in particular types of businesses. The vast majority of car washes and nail bars, for example, are perfectly legitimate establishments which treat their employees properly.

“There are some, however, that have previously been found to be using slaves, often paying them just a few a pounds a week. So if you are having your car washed or your nails done please stop and think for a second – is the service I am receiving ridiculously cheap and if it is, why is it?

“By paying a few pounds less for your car to be washed are you helping to not only line the pockets of these evil gangmasters but to also enslave vulnerable people?

“It might not be a message people want to hear but in 2020 there could be slaves living and perhaps working on your street.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and National Association of PCCs Lead on Modern Slavery, said: “It's hard to comprehend both the horrendous situations victims of modern slavery are forced to live and work in, and even more so simply how anyone could treat other human beings in this manner.

“Shortly after being elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012, I made tackling modern slavery and human trafficking a priority within my Police and Crime Plan and made additional resources available to set up the WYP dedicated team. A whole host of work has taken place since then and as you would expect is still on-going, but members of the public also really have a key role in helping us to truly end slavery in all its forms, something which I’m sure everyone would like to see happen.”

“In support of this campaign we are reissuing videos of a survivor of modern slavery who spent 15 years trapped in forced labour speaking about his experiences. I would urge everyone to watch the videos to hear a first-hand account of what real people are faced with in these appalling circumstances. My heartfelt thanks to this survivor for his bravery in speaking out and allowing us to continue to use his story to raise crucial awareness.”

To help people spot the potential signs of slavery the Force has issued advice, including what to do if you suspect something is wrong.

Possible signs to look out for:

  • Do the people living at a house appear isolated or secretive?
  • Do more people appear to be living in a house than would normally be expected?
  • Are the windows of a house covered from the inside?
  • Have you ever noticed anyone taking an excessive amount of bed mattresses into a house?
  • Do the people living in a house get collected/taken to work early in the morning and returned late at night?
  • Have you noticed anyone who appears to be living in outbuildings/barns/trailers or under any other roofs that make you suspicious?

For more advice and signs to look out for see https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/advice/modern-slavery/modern-slavery-human-trafficking 

“As a Force and with our key partners we are doing all we can to rescue victims and bring offenders to justice. But we can’t be everywhere all of the time,” added DCI Gaffney.

“We need people to be out ‘eyes and ears’ and to let us know if something isn’t quite right. It may turn out to be something completely innocent but it may also be that missing piece of intelligence we need to help save people.

“I know not everyone feels comfortable contacting the police and there is a way you can report concerns or suspicions without coming directly to us.

If you think someone in YOUR workplace or on your street could be a victim of modern slavery please contact The Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121700 or www.modernslaveryhelpline.org.

Or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or visit the website

Ring 999 if someone’s life is in danger.


The videos of the Modern Slavery Survivor can be viewed below.