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More than 260 modern slavery referrals in Bedfordshire last year

20 Mar 2019

More than 260 cases of modern slavery were identified in Bedfordshire last year, new figures show, prompting renewed calls for the public to keep their eyes open for signs of criminal exploitation.

The number of potential victims of modern slavery passed through to the national referral mechanism (NRM) in our area was the fifth highest of all police force areas in the UK.

More referrals were made in Bedfordshire last year than across the whole of Scotland.

Most of the 262 referrals in 2018 were made via national agencies, many of which were linked to London Luton Airport and Yarls Wood Immigration Centre.

UK Visas and Immigration made 123 referrals, while Home Office Immigration Enforcement referred 84 people to the NRM. This system offers specialist support for potential victims of modern slavery.

The number of people referred from Yarls Wood in particular may skew the overall picture of slavery and trafficking being committed in Bedfordshire, but the impact these referrals have on local resources is significant.

We remain responsible for the initial investigation of the majority of NRMs submitted from Yarls Wood.

Plus, local agencies also made a considerable number of referrals into the system.

We identified 18 potential victims of modern slavery across 2018, and referred them into the national safeguarding system. This was up from four referrals across 2017.

They included girls from the UK and Romania being sexually exploited; women from Albania and Romania being sexually exploited, as well as men from Bulgaria, Romania and the UK being sexually exploited.

Bedfordshire’s three local authorities – Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton – also identified 12 victims between them.

The Salvation Army made 16 referrals for potential victims they identified in the county.

Bedfordshire’s flagship Anti Slavery Partnership - co-chaired by us and national anti-slavery charity Unseen, and with representatives from all three local authorities as well as other agencies - has been leading the fight against modern slavery in the county since it was launched a little over a year ago.

The group has designed a new guide for front line practitioners across the county to spot the signs of adult exploitation, which will be released over the coming months.

The partnership is also releasing a new poster to the public around the potential ways adults may show signs of being exploited by criminal gangs.

Detective Inspector Katie Dounias, who leads our work around modern slavery, said: “These figures should serve as a timely reminder that modern slavery is taking place right across Bedfordshire.

“Given the county’s proximity to London, diverse population and transport links such as the airport and the M1, Bedfordshire faces a greater challenge than most police forces when it comes to vulnerable people being criminally exploited.

“Slavery in today’s world can take many forms, beyond the common idea of people being forced to work long hours for little or no money.

“This includes cuckooing, where vulnerable people have their homes taken over by gangs to be used as drugs dens; children or vulnerable adults being forced to commit criminal acts such as dealing drugs, pickpocketing or shoplifting; forced marriage, or being forced to work in the sex industry.

“We need the public’s help to spot all these types of modern slavery and exploitation taking place in our communities, so we can help protect vulnerable people and bring the perpetrators of this criminality to justice.”

While modern slavery and criminal exploitation can take many forms, these are some common signs to spot which may suggest someone is being exploited:

·         Physical appearance - may appear withdrawn, show signs of abuse or have unexplained and suspicious injuries

·         Isolation - victim may appear to be under the influence of others or seem unfamiliar with their surroundings

·         Poor living conditions – could be dirty and cramped, or the victim may live at the same place they work

·         Restricted movement - victim may not have their own travel documents or be let out on their own

·         Possessions - victims may have no ID, few possessions and always wear the same clothes

·         Won’t seek help - could always be with someone else, or appear hostile to police and other agencies

·         Unusual travel times - may regularly be dropped off or collected for work very early or late at night

Anyone who suspects someone is at risk of modern slavery can contact police on 101 or via the online reporting centre on our website.

They can also speak to the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700.

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