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Crackdown on human trafficking supported by Dame Vera Baird

22nd June 2017

Northumbria Police has launched dawn raids to safeguard vulnerable people believed to be victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery.

In recent months the force has been working closely with the National Crime Agency (NCA), Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, NHS and British Red Cross.

They have been working together in an investigation into a number of people suspected of trafficking vulnerable people to Newcastle and Gateshead to exploit them.

That work has culminated in two days of action on Monday and Tuesday which has led to six warrants being executed to target the organised crime groups believed to be behind the trafficking.

Officers suspect these organised crime groups – who are believed to be Romanian – of bringing women to the UK from Eastern Europe on the false promise of paid work.

The women have then been put into addresses in Newcastle and Gateshead before falling victim to sexual exploitation and modern day slavery.

On Monday the NCA, supported by Northumbria Police, carried out searches at four addresses in Gateshead and three addressed in Newcastle.

Following that operation three people were arrested, eight women were safeguarded and provided with support by specialists from partner agencies and our officers.

On Tuesday a second operation was led by Northumbria Police during which three addresses in Newcastle were searched. A further three people were arrested in connection with modern day slavery offences.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird DBE QC said: “This proactive human trafficking crackdown by Northumbria Police and partners is excellent. Police and our local agencies have fully grasped the seriousness and hidden nature of this ‘modern’ crime and have developed clear strategies to tackle it.

“Human trafficking is a very serious issue and though it is easily associated with countries abroad, these results demonstrate that it is happening right here on our doorstep.

“I hope victims who are caught up in terrible exploitation can find the confidence to speak to our officers so we can catch those responsible and bring them to justice. We all have a role to play in spotting the signs.

“If something doesn’t seem right, the chances are it’s not, so we must all work together to identify, free and support victims. I will ensure Northumbria Police continues to tackle this issue head on.”

Superintendent Peter Bent, of Northumbria Police’s Crime Department, has said that the force will continue to do all they can to safeguard vulnerable people.

He said: “Safeguarding vulnerable people is a major priority for Northumbria Police and some of the victims we have identified today are extremely vulnerable.

“We believe that these women were trafficked into the UK on the promise of paid employment but what awaited them was a horrific life of exploitation.

“Human traffickers exploit vulnerable people in truly appalling ways and control them through violence and threatening behaviour.

“Some of the women we have safeguarded today may not even realise they are victims but they will now receive the level of care and support they need.

“Modern day slavery is a horrendous crime but it is often hidden and we rely on the vigilance of people in our local communities to report any suspicious behaviour to us.

“We all have a responsibility to help protect those who may be vulnerable and we believe that Safeguarding is everyone’s business.”

Brian Shaw, Senior Investigating Officer at the NCA, said: “The criminal networks involved in human trafficking often coerce people to move across continents on the basis false promises of a better life.

“In reality, victims are often treated as commodities and can end up being exploited through sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or forced labour.

“Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is a priority for the NCA and we have had tremendous support from local authorities and colleagues across law enforcement to disrupt this network and safeguard victims.”

Lizzi Trueblood, British Red Cross Operations Manager for Emergency Response in the North of England, said: “The Red Cross has was asked by Northumbria Police to provide practical and emotional support to anyone evacuated as a result of this operation, at a place of safety.

“Our trained staff and volunteers have been on hand to provide emotional support, as well as practical necessities such as clothing, refreshments and first aid. The Red Cross works alongside emergency services across the UK to help those in crisis.”

Gateshead Council Leader, Martin Gannon, said: “Staff from Gateshead Council were available throughout this operation to work with our multi agency partners to both support any victims, so their safeguarding needs were met and to provide assurance to the affected communities.

“It is horrendous to think that human trafficking still exists in the 21st century and is here, operating on Tyneside. We will do everything we can to help our partners eradicate this problem.”

Deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, Cllr Joyce McCarty, said: “Modern day slavery is an appalling crime and people will be truly shocked to think this is happening here in Newcastle.

“Our priority is to care for the victims and ensure they receive all of the support that they need. This kind of crime is often hidden, but I would urge people to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to police.”

Potential victims of modern slavery receive safe, secure and appropriate accommodation and support through the Adult Victims of Modern Slavery Care & Coordination Services Contract, which is delivered by The Salvation Army.

Anyone with concerns about crime and human trafficking where they live should contact their local neighbourhood policing team on 101.