Police vow to tackle modern slavery as they move to allay concerns raised during Sunderland council meeting
Concerns have been raised about modern slavery on Wearside – but police chiefs have stressed they are trained to root out the practice.
The Home Office estimates there are up to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK, although the true figure is likely to be higher.
Victims are often forced to work against their will in many different settings with freedom taken away through the use of threats or violence.
Signs include evidence of controlling movement, confinement to the workplace or to a limited area, restricting access to medical care and having a passport or documents held by someone else.
Concerns about the practice were raised during a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s East Sunderland Area Committee, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube, on Monday, March 15.
This followed recent media reports of a national investigation into human trafficking, drug dealing and money laundering where several addresses across England were raided – with Sunderland among the list of cities and towns named.
When the reports were referenced at the council meeting earlier this week, police moved to reassure councillors that modern slavery was not a “significant issue” on Wearside.
But they also warned that the practice could “take many guises,” from cannabis farms and car washes to sex work, and that police officers were trained to identify and support victims.
Inspector Jamie Southwell, of Northumbria Police, told the meeting: “We’re very aware of it [modern slavery] and it takes many forms.
“Sunderland is like every other city, we’re busy looking for it and trying to scope to see where it might be.
“I wouldn’t say it was a significant issue, I wouldn’t say that we have problems in lots and lots of neighbourhoods with lots of issues of this nature.
“But yes the staff are all trained now in terms of what to look for and what to do where we find it.
“Only last week, I undertook a full days training along with some of my colleagues in relation to what we would do if we ever had a scenario where a lorry was found with a lot of victims in the back of the lorry.
“So we’re busy doing that training because we like to be prepared should we come across any scenarios of that nature.”
The councillors were told that there are several areas of crime that are more likely to involve victims of modern slavery.
Insp Southwell added: “Your cannabis farms, sometimes it’s a local enterprise by a local criminal fraternity.
“Sometimes it’s possible that it’s modern day slavery and it’s people from other nationalities who are in there and are sort of cheap labour looking after the cannabis farms.
“So again we will try and hunt out the cannabis farms […] with intelligence from the community but then, if we find people within the farm maintaining it, we’re always very open minded as to whether they’re a victim or an offender.”
For more information on modern slavery and human trafficking visit: beta.northumbria.police.uk/advice-and-info/violent-crime/modern-slavery-and-human-trafficking
Concerns about modern slavery can be reported to a 24/7 dedicated helpline on 0800 0121 700 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.