‘We failed to end exploitation’ – Leader’s frank speech 12 years on from Ipswich murders
The former leader of Ipswich Borough Council has admitted the town failed to end exploitation, trafficking and slavery following the murder of five Ipswich women in 2006.
Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday night during a debate on the charter against modern slavery, Conservative councillor Liz Harsant gave a frank speech on the town’s failings.
Mrs Harsant, who was council leader at the time of the murder of five women working in the sex industry, said: “We worked hard to end street prostitution in Ipswich, and I know that the hard work we undertook saved lives.
“But in many ways we failed. We failed to end exploitation, we failed to end trafficking and we failed to end slavery.
“Right now, in our town, young women and young men are being exploited. They are being trafficked and some are being held as slaves.
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“We know it happens, yet we are not doing enough – not nearly enough – to end it.”
The council unanimously backed the motion, put forward by Labour councillor Julian Gibbs, which vows to implement a series of measures to tackle modern slavery.
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Staff will be trained in recognising the signs of modern slavery, abnormally low tenders will be challenged and all contractors carrying out council work will be required to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Home Office data estimates there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims in the UK, which can include those under forced labour, sexual or criminal exploitation and forced marriage.
Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell were murdered over a period of six weeks in late 2006.
The issue prompted a wave of work by police, council and voluntary organisations to tackle street prostitution, with particular concerns over vulnerable women who may be exploited or coerced into the sex industry.
Across the council chamber, there were calls of serious action to eradicate modern slavery.
Labour councillor Tracy Grant, who seconded the motion, said: “It saddens me that slavery was abolished all those years ago and that we still need to have a motion come before council.”
Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said work was going on to educate the public and businesses on spotting the signs of modern slavery, including people without ID or who had problems communicating, and said businesses needed to be able to ensure their trade did not involve any people utilising slavery.
He also pointed to work by two organisations – Unseen and Just Enough – which have been working to raise awareness – including with primary school children to help them spot the signs.
He added: “It’s a really important subject and it does happen in Suffolk.
“This sort of behaviour takes us back to the dark ages.”
Acting Detective Superintendent Barry Byford said: “Modern slavery is a reality and happens everywhere, even in rural counties. It’s an abuse of human rights and effects society’s most vulnerable men, women and children.
“Very often the victims live in fear and are too frightened or unwilling to come forward. We need to open people’s eyes to the slavery happening around them and encourage victims to speak out.
“They need to know that they have the support of Suffolk Constabulary and our partner agencies and by working together we can help free them of this atrocious crime.”
“We remain committed to working with our partners to deal appropriately with any reports or signs of prostitution on the streets of our county.
“We continue to monitor closely for any signs that this issue is re-emerging and fully recognise the vulnerability of those individuals who work in the sex industry.
“We react quickly and positively to any information that suggests women or men may be at risk through prostitution and provide the support and assistance with other agencies to offer the help that is needed. If we receive any information regarding signs of street prostitution we would treat as a safeguarding issue and investigate this immediately.”