This week (February 3 – 7) Northamptonshire Police is conducting a week of intensification to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. The focus will be lorries and roads policing officers will be stopping HGVs across the county’s road networks and lorry parks.
Officers will be joined by partners Highways England, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and Immigration to engage with drivers, conduct checks and offer advice.
The aim is to stop and engage with HGV vehicles who may be housing trafficked foreign nationals while safeguarding victims and bringing any offenders to justice, while raising awareness across the haulage trade.
Leaflets have been produced in a range of languages for distribution at key lorry sites and local businesses have been written to, making them aware of their responsibilities and duties to consider and report the steps they have taken to seek out and prevent human trafficking taking place in their supply chains.
In the past year, Northamptonshire Police has charged 35 people with modern slavery offences and it is a crime which is far more prevalent in the UK than previously thought. Victims are viewed as a commodity to be repeatedly traded or exploited for criminal purposes like forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation.
Detective Chief Inspector Lee McBride, who is the force lead for tackling modern slavery, said:
“This activity is part of a national campaign to tackle people smuggling, following the tragic events in Essex last year where 39 people were found dead in a lorry.
“We know modern slavery is happening in this county with men, women and children suffering at the hands of criminals. My message for victims is please call us - we will listen and we will believe you. If you think you’re a victim but you are unsure, get in touch and we’ll help you work out if you are.
“There are a number of ways you can get help and report what is happening to you including the excellent ‘Unseen’ app, downloadable from a smart phone’s App store. This gives access to help if you are in an exploitative situation or think you might be, with a secure and direct link to report concerns you may have.
“People smuggling is a horrible crime and we will not tolerate it in this county. The week’s activity is aimed at protecting vulnerable people and bringing to justice anybody peddling this human exploitation and misery.”
Northamptonshire Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Stephen Mold said: “I am glad to see this important work being carried out, as it is a priority in my Police and Crime plan. It is shocking that slavery continues to be an issue that is happening in our county, right now. We need to do all we can to make sure people are aware of the forms modern slavery can take and what to do about it if they suspect something is not right.”
Operation Aidant is co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA). The operation is run nationally every year and involves local police forces working alongside partner agencies to focus on modern slavery and human trafficking. The nature of these crimes means victims are hidden and controlled so it can be hard to spot or recognise, particularly for victims of sexual exploitation, force labour or domestic servitude. These are the signs to be aware of:
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE – Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, or appear withdrawn
ISOLATION – Victims may rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work
POOR LIVING CONDITIONS – Victims may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address
FEW OR NO PERSONAL EFFECTS – Victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work
RESTRICTED FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT – Victims have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retained, e.g. passports
UNUSUAL TRAVEL TIMES – They may be dropped off/collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night
RELUCTANT TO SEEK HELP – Victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.
If you see something, say something and together we can break the cycle of exploitation.
There are number of ways to report and get help and advice:
The Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700, Crimestoppers, anonymously on 0800 555 111 or Northamptonshire Police on 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.