Hundreds of suspected victims of modern slavery identified in Bedfordshire Image Bedfordshire Police

Bedfordshire had the fifth highest total in the UK

Almost 400 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking were identified in Bedfordshire last year.

Government figures for 2019, released earlier this month, showed that 399 cases were referred into the national referral mechanism (NRM) in the county. This was an increase of 53 per cent on last year.

The figure was the fifth highest of any UK police force area, with Bedfordshire Police investigating more offences than their counterparts from larger forces such as Merseyside.

Beds Police said that the majority of the cases came via referrals from the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre near Bedford.

Despite many of these offences taking place overseas, Bedfordshire Police is responsible for carrying out initial enquiries into these modern slavery allegations, such as interviewing the victims.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bellingham, the Bedfordshire Police lead for serious and organised crime, said:

“Police and our partners across Bedfordshire have a strong track record when it comes to identifying and responding to modern slavery and exploitation.

“Organised criminal networks ruthlessly exploit children and other vulnerable people, employing violence and intimidation to bully and coerce people into helping these gangs line their own pockets.”

Public urged to keep an eye out for possible signs of exploitation

Police and charity bosses are urging the public to keep an eye out for possible signs of exploitation. Beds Police says that these offences are still likely to be taking place during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Victims of slavery can come from many backgrounds. But people with poor mental health, alcohol and drug abuse issues or those with poor English language skills are particularly at risk.

A number of changes have been identified as having a potential impact on modern slavery victims due to COVID-19. These are besides the risk of being infected with the virus.

The closure of restaurants, car washes, nail bars and a decline in the number of visitors to brothels may result in the eviction of victims from their accommodation, making them homeless.

As organised crime groups look to maximise their profits during the crisis, victims may be moved to other roles or types of exploitation.

Tighter restrictions, worsening conditions and increased violence and abuse may also be suffered by victims, as exploiters try to remain profitable.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bellingham said:

“The abhorrence of slavery is still happening today in our communities, even in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, and we need everybody’s help to report things to us and help us stop it.”

Anyone with any information about modern slavery and exploitation is asked to contact police on 101 or via bedfordshire.police.uk/report.

You can also report information to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

For more information about the different types of modern slavery and the signs to spot, please visit the Bedfordshire Police website.