Modern slavery more prevalent than thought — United Kingdom crime agency

Human trafficking

Three women aged 46, 24 and 21 along with an 18-year-old man were questioned on suspicion of of human trafficking and slavery offences.

A woman, 43, was also arrested at an address in Chesterton Court in Chester on suspicion of the same offence. All have been released under investigation pending further enquiries.

A Home Office spokesman said the government had taken "world-leading action" to tackle modern slavery, including toughening up sentences and increasing support and protection for victims.

"We know modern slavery and human trafficking a much bigger problem than is being identified, yet we're still stumbling around because we don't have proper data", she told The Independent.

The agency has been carrying out combined operations, working with police forces and public sector bodies, and has found evidence that modern slavery is happening in all major cities in the United Kingdom as well as in every medium-to-large town.

"Hopefully the NCA's advertising campaign will lead to more intelligence and greater understanding of the scale of the problem".

Human traffickers and slave masters are using the internet to lure their victims with hollow promises of education, jobs and even marriage.

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On June 30 members of the gang in Britain, Romania, Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic had been arrested, and 10 women in the north-east of England involved in prostitution had been "safeguarded".

A Romanian gang who were operating across Europe had made five million euros (US$5.8 million) from trafficking and slavery.

Another gang in Bristol was exploiting Slovakian men in a vehicle wash business.

Linkedactivity also took place on mainland Europe resulting in around 40 further arrests and the launch of 25 further investigations.

Additionally, the number of people being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as potential victims of modern slavery continues to rise.

Kerr added that modern slavery had rightly been made a priority across law enforcement, but it was a hidden crime so the onus was on them to seek it out.

"The more we look, the more we find", said William Kerr, the NCA's director of vulnerabilities.

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"The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought", said Mr. Kerr.

In response the NCA begins a new campaign focused on sexual and labour exploitation, explaining how the public can help stop it. It is hard to spot because often victims don't even know they are being exploited.

"But what we do know though is that the information and tools we now use to disrupt these gangs and identify offenders we are going to need after Brexit as well".

Mr Kerr warned that modern slavery was now so widespread that people would be coming into contact with victims daily.

Mr Kerr said officials have been shocked by the scale of what they have seen. That might be someoneseeming afraid, vulnerable or being controlled, moved around or forced towork against their will. "If they do, we need the public to speak for us", he added.

"Anyone with suspicions can call their local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700".

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