National Crime Agency warns true scale of modern slavery is ‘far more prevalent’ than previously estimated, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.
The enormous scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK has been revealed in a major official report, with hundreds cases affecting “every large town and city in the country”.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the scale of the issue is far more prevalent than previously estimated, and warned that the threat is continuing to expand.
There are currently more than 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery in the UK, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe, the report reveals.
Operational activity focusing on labour and sexual exploitation co-ordinated by the NCA through May and June led to 111 arrests in the UK and some 130 people being encountered who may be considered as victims.
Linkedactivity also took place on mainland Europe resulting in around 40 further arrests and the launch of 25 further investigations.
Will Kerr, director of vulnerabilities at the NCA, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.
“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought. This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”
Responding to the report, Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, said the fight against modern slavery must go beyond arrests, and extend into more convictions as well as improved intelligence gathering and better support for victims.
“Arrests have been made by police, victims rescued and convictions secured. But the real work starts now. We need to see more convictions and criminals behind bars,” Mr Hyland said.
“We need to see information gathered and mined for intelligence that leads to organised networks dismantled. And we need these victims to be supported and cared for so that they are no longer vulnerable to traffickers and slave masters.
“It is my hope that the campaign launched today by the NCA leads to an increased awareness among the British public, so that we can pride ourselves on being a nation that will not tolerate the evil of modern slavery.”
The report comes a day after Mr Hyland accused the NCA came of not taking the crime seriously enough and allowing important information about modern slavery offences to “sit dormant” on databases.
Speaking to the Evening Standard on Thursday, Mr Hyland said measures to protect other potential victims had not been taken, in a failure he likened to allowing a rapist to “run around London” without police taking action.
The number of people being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s official framework for identifying victims of human trafficking – has been steadily rising in recent years. Almost 1,400 victims, including cases of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, were identified last year.