Six cases of modern slavery dealt with in Sunderland, council reveals
Six cases of modern slavery have been dealt with by Sunderland City Council in the past year, figures have revealed.
It is estimated there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery and trafficking in the UK, including children.
Victims, which also include UK nationals, can be exploited or forced against their will to work for little or no pay for the benefit of others.
They can also be abused, threatened or stripped of their rights.
In response to the growing threat, local authorities including Sunderland City Council have drafted their own policies to stamp out the crime.
As slavery can span geographical boundaries, work is also under way with Northumbria Police to develop a regional response.
On July 11, the council’s Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee, heard an update on recent work to tackle modern slavery in Sunderland.
According to a report prepared for the committee, the council dealt with six cases over a 12-month period (2018/19).
Stuart Douglass, Lead Policy Officer for Community Safety on the council, said he wasn’t aware of any cases leading to Sunderland prosecutions.
And the complex nature of the crime, he said, can see victims accommodated in Sunderland and working elsewhere.
He told the meeting: “What typically has happened with those safeguarding cases is the person has been safeguarded or put into the national referral mechanism and we often then lose sight of that person as they’re taken out of the area.
“The Salvation Army run the contract for the Home Office and they’re taken to a place of safety for up to 45 days and there’s work done around what happened to them.
“If there’s a police investigation or a gangmaster’s authority investigation into employers that could take some time.
“We haven’t seen any particular Sunderland prosecutions but compounding it, we do see a reluctance of victims to give that evidence.
“So the key thing at the minute is trying to understand where we might have risks around that.
“Nationally, it has been highlighted that car washes which pop up and have not been established for a long time are a real risk and that’s the kind of area we should be focusing on.”
The comments came during a presentation from the Safer Sunderland Partnership (SSP) at Sunderland Civic Centre.
In action, the SSP unites council, police, fire and rescue, probation and health services to tackle common goals.
Car washes checked
At the meeting, councillors were told that recent Northumbria Police spot checks on car washes had seen results – with several victims handing themselves into police.
“We have had some success from that kind of approach,” Mr Douglass explained.
“I know in 2018, there had been some awareness raising with a high profile visit with neighbourhood police officers and other agencies to a car wash.
“No offences were disclosed at that time but a few weeks later, four people presented themselves for support at a police station who had been aware of that and wanted assistance.
“They were from Eastern Europe and safeguarding and support was put in place.
“If we raise awareness we will start to spot it more and that includes the critical role of elected members who know their wards – you know those new kinds of businesses popping up.
“We’re planning to do more work this year on raising that awareness.”
In response to a question from Coun Paula Hunt, councillors heard Sunderland modern slavery cases involved both car washes and restaurants.
Anyone who witnesses any suspicious activity is urged to call the police in the first instance or 999 in an emergency.
Information can also be reported to the Modern Day Slavery helpline on 0800 0121 700 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.