Number of suspected slavery victims in London expected to leap by 60%
Head of Met’s modern slavery unit tells conference the force expects as many as 1,600 people to be referred this year.
The head of the Metropolitan police’s anti-slavery unit has said the number of suspected victims in London is expected to leap by 60% this year, as campaigners warn that people are being left open to repeated abuse because of a failure to protect them.
DCI Phil Brewer, the head of the Met’s modern slavery and kidnap unit, told a conference at City Hall that the Met expects as many as 1,600 suspected victims of human trafficking to be referred to the force this year, an increase on the 1,000 referred in 2016. Last year there was a 260% increase on the previous year; 278 cases were referred to police in 2015.
“They are wide-ranging referrals in terms of what victims have been through … some cases are incredibly traumatic,” he said.
On Thursday three Romanian men are due to be sentenced at Kingston crown court after pleading guilty to trafficking offences following a joint operation between British and Romanian police. The men brought women into the UK from impoverished homes. The women were then forced to have sex with as many as 15 men a day, with the money charged being taken from them.
Campaigners said that despite a huge push many were being missed, with councils failing to identify victims despite a statutory duty to report suspected slaves to the national referral mechanism introduced by the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.
It will come as a blow to Theresa May, who as home secretary led the fight against modern-day slavery. Karen Bradley, a former minister for preventing abuse, said the increase in referrals was a sign that “our efforts are working”, but MPs and charities have said the numbers prove trafficking and slavery are thriving in the UK.
London councils identified on average fewer than four trafficked adults or children a year, while 10 London boroughs failed to identify any cases of child trafficking in data collected by Ecpat UK in 2015, the conference was told.
Tamara Barnett, of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said that there was still a culture of disbelief that meant modern-day slaves were missed, including children who went missing from care. She said those who were referred often received inadequate support after the 45 days required by the new law.
“Modern slavery is something of a new buzz word … but with human trafficking we are where we were with domestic violence 25 years ago, or FGM [female genital mutilation] five or 10 years ago,” she said. “Victims are not being identified, when they are being identified they are not being protected and criminals are getting away with their abuse.”
A Human Trafficking Foundation report on female survivors leaving a safe house in London found that a quarter went missing, often under suspicious circumstances. “People are ending up destitute or worse,” said Barnett. While women were provided with support on leaving a safe house there was no protection plan in place, she said, adding that in one case a man had returned three times having been put back into bondage each time he left.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the deputy mayor for policing and crime, Sophie Linden, had established a London modern slavery steering group, scheduled to meet for the first time this summer in order to help tackle the problem.
“This is a crime that we can only solve by working together,” Khan said. “Modern slavery touches on the work of so many sectors across London and nationally.”
Bharti Patel, the chief executive of Ecpat UK, said that a lack of training among professionals meant the signs of children being exploited were too often missed.
“It is also the case that many children who are suspected or known to have been trafficked go missing from local authority care, are often criminalised and have limited or no access to specialist care and accommodation, legal advice or independent advocacy,” she said. “London’s response to child trafficking and modern slavery needs to be joined up, so that children do not fall through gaps in child protection responses, and more perpetrators are caught and prosecuted for heinous crimes against children.”