Hundreds of potential victims of modern slavery identified in Bedfordshire
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More than 750 potential victims of modern slavery were identified in Bedfordshire last year, according to official Home Office figures.
Between January and December last year 755 referrals in total were made by different agencies in the county to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking.
This was the fourth highest number of any police force area in the country, with more potential victims identified in Bedfordshire than in Greater Manchester and the whole of Scotland.
Of those identified, 147 were children aged 17 and under.
While the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre accounts for a significant proportion of the cases, Bedfordshire Police and the county’s three local authorities identified a total of 117 potential cases between them.
Criminal exploitation, where people are forced to commit criminal acts such as drug dealing, cannabis cultivation or forced shoplifting, was the most common type of exploitation identified by Bedfordshire Police.
Half of the potential criminal exploitation cases identified by Bedfordshire Police involved children.
Potential cases of labour and sexual exploitation as well as domestic servitude were also identified in the county in 2022.
The Modern Slavery & Exploitation helpline ‘Unseen’ also recently published their annual assessment recording their busiest year ever and found significant increased reports of forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.
The helpline found Bedfordshire Police as having a 100 per cent increase in the number of potential victims from the year before.
Last month, following an investigation, officers arrested two men from Bedford on suspicion of modern slavery offences after a man had presented himself in hospital with frostbite.
Hospital staff used the NRM to raise their concerns.
Detective Chief Inspector James Panter from Bedfordshire Police said: “We are working tirelessly alongside our local partners to develop our understanding, better recognise vulnerability and ensure some potentially really vulnerable people in our communities are being identified and safeguarded.
“We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable victims and rooting out all forms of exploitation linked to organised crime, including human trafficking and organised immigration crime.
“There are still victims out there, and so we desperately need the public to speak out and report any suspicions they may have.”
Hazel Simmons MBE, leader of Luton Council, added: “Slavery in any shape or form is a despicable evil and a blot on any society where it exists. As a council we are utterly committed to working closely with our partners and the wider community to protect victims of this wicked activity.
“We all have a responsibility to help and protect vulnerable adults and children from exploitation and abuse and I would urge everyone to be vigilant and report and act upon any situation that raises concerns, so together we can make a real difference.”