William Eichler 20 March 2019

‘County Lines’ major driver behind rise in slavery reporting

The number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities has risen by more than 80% in two years, new data reveals.

The National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, shows that in 2018 there were 6,993 potential victims referred into the system.

This is up from 5,142 in 2017 and 3,804 in 2016.

Potential victims from 130 different countries were identified, with British citizens making up the largest nationality (1,625). Albanians (947) and Vietnamese (702) were second and third.

The number of British citizens reported was almost double the number from 2017, while the number of minors referred increased by 48%.

Both increases were driven by the numbers referred for labour exploitation, which includes those exploited for criminal purposes by ‘County Lines’ gangs.

‘The increase is undoubtedly the result of greater awareness, understanding and reporting of modern slavery and that is something to be welcomed,’ said the National Crime Agency deputy director Roy McComb.

‘However, the more we look the more we find, and it is likely these figures represent only a snapshot of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.’

Mr McComb warned that the increase in referrals made for ‘County Lines’ type exploitation was of ‘particular concern’.

‘These are often vulnerable individuals – often children — who are exploited by criminal gangs for the purposes of drug trafficking,’ he said.

‘Our understanding of the threat is much greater than it was a few years ago, and modern slavery remains a high priority for law enforcement, with around 1,500 criminal investigations currently live in the UK,’ Mr McComb continued.

‘But we cannot stop modern slavery alone, we need support and assistance from across the public and private sectors, NGOs and most of all the public themselves.’

Local authorities must do more than meet the ‘bare minimum of the Modern Slavery Act’, writes Paul Gerrard.

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