Hundreds of suspected victims identified, as police continue to crack down on modern slavery
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More than 400 potential victims of modern slavery were identified in Bedfordshire last year, as police continue to work with partners to crack down on modern slavery, human trafficking and organised immigration crime.
Data from the Home Office shows that 402 referrals were made to Bedfordshire Police by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) between January and December 2021, with 109 of those identified as children aged 17 and under.
The number of victims identified in Bedfordshire is the ninth highest of every police force area in the country, and higher than other force areas such as Northern Ireland and Merseyside.
The figures also show that labour exploitation is the most frequently reported exploitation type.
Officers from Bedfordshire Police regularly work with local partners and national agencies, such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), to carry out proactive days of action combatting all types of exploitation linked to organised crime, including modern slavery, human trafficking and organised immigration crime.
This is carried out under Operation Aidant, a national initiative to tackle these types of crime, as well as raising awareness on what to look out for and identifying potential victims.
Over the last few months, officers have visited several car washes and nail bars across the county and have engaged with owners and managers, as well as staff, to identify any concerns.
A number of lorries using Toddington Services on the M1 were also targeted and searched as part of Operation Thomond. This location has been identified as a place that is used by human traffickers to collect people who have been smuggled into the country.
Last month three men were also charged with a number of modern slavery offences as part of a drugs supply investigation in Biggleswade and Sandy.
The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support, with the investigation then undertaken by the police.
Detective Inspector Alison Whitworth, the force lead for modern slavery, said: “Unfortunately modern slavery, and in particular labour exploitation, is becoming more and more common everywhere, and Bedfordshire is no exception.
“Vulnerable people are trafficked into or around the UK to carry out manual work. Their exploiters often take their passports from them, and they may be made to live in poor conditions with no means of leaving.
“The recent BBC documentary in which Olympian Sir Mo Farah has said he was trafficked to the UK as a child and forced to work as a domestic servant, has been pivotal in shining a light on modern slavery and human trafficking.
“Our officers are doing a great job in investigating and uncovering these types of crimes, as well as ensuring the victims are supported and safeguarded, but we also need members of the public to speak out and report any suspicions they may have.
“Tackling exploitation is everyone’s business and we all have a duty to be vigilant in spotting the signs.”