Low house prices and high numbers of low-skilled manual jobs has made West Yorkshire a “destination of choice” for human trafficking and modern slavery, according to a police report.
More than ten people a month were reported to the national modern slavery referral scheme from West Yorkshire last year, a higher total than anywhere else in the country except London.
In a report into the issue by West Yorkshire Police, the region’s largest police force says it has made a major investment to bridge gaps in intelligence and information and tackle its “inability to provide effective victim care”.
An extra £1.5 million has been invested by the force’s crime commissioner to deal with the problem in the county and in January a dedicated team was set up, containing 12 detectives and a financial investigator, who is yet to be appointed.
According to a report by Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, who leads the team, the force now has nine major investigations into organised human trafficking and modern slavery networks, including six into labour exploitation.
The probes are concentrated in urban areas such as Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees and Halifax and mostly relate to labour rather than sexual exploitation, as this type of criminality requires low-cost housing and properties of multiple occupancy, which are more common in urban areas.
According to the West Yorkshire Police report on work being done on human trafficking and modern day slavery, the county has a high number of victims and suspects from Eastern Europe, particularly Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
It said West Yorkshire is a “destination of choice” for the emerging form of crime, and that a possible reason for this is “low house prices, particularly in Bradford”.
Other factors were said to be the availability of jobs, “particularly low skilled manual work where a thorough command of English is not always necessary”, the county’s status as a manufacturing base and its proximity to other “travel centres” such as Manchester airport and Hull seaport.
The Yorkshire Post last year reported concerns that hundreds of victims of human trafficking and forced labour are going undetected across Yorkshire as members of the public and local authorities fail to recognise the problem going on in front of them.
A leading academic said official statistics about the numbers of people forced into miserable working conditions or trafficked into the country to be exploited in the region “hugely understate the scale of the problem”.
West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner has pumped in £1.5m over two years to tackle the problem in the county, though this ends in December 2016.
The number of reports about human trafficking and modern slavery coming in to local police from the public and other agencies has doubled in the last six months, from 339 in 2014 to 404 in the first six months of 2015.
Over ten months 1,700 police officers and staff, as well as 1,400 staff from other local agencies, have been given training on spotting the signs of human trafficking and how to respond.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, who leads the West Yorkshire Police human trafficking team, said: “We think there are many more victims out there that we need to engage with and protect from being part of human trafficking.”
He said the training was to increase awareness and understanding among police officers but also staff from other agencies such as social services, fire and rescue and safeguarding teams who were not reporting enough local victims.
Mr Stevenson said: “The vast majority of referrals come from law enforcement. There is a lot of training ongoing, it is awareness training for all that we are trying to push.”
The police report said: “Above all else, [there] is the risk that children and young people may become victims of Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery.
“The safeguarding of victims and tackling Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery carries huge reputational risks for both West Yorkshire Police and the police and crime commissioner (PCC).
“The risk becomes heightened without deployment of sufficiently trained resources and effective awareness raising.
“The PCC and the Chief Constable have allocated a substantial audit resource against safeguarding risk to provide assurances in this area.
“The audit team are in the process of scoping work in this area which will provide resource for audits to take place which reflect the strategic risk assessment and a resulting action plan. The audit team will have academia working alongside to provide an independent view.”