Suffolk Constabulary has identified 20 victims of human trafficking and exploitation in the county since 2013
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Their passports are taken away and they are made to live with no spare clothes and no money.
It may seem like a situation more widely linked to some of Britain’s biggest cities, but new figures uncovered by the EADT and Ipswich Star today shed light on the real issue of human trafficking in Suffolk.
Data released by Suffolk Constabulary under Freedom of Information laws show that dozens of men, women and children are being forced to work or commit sexual acts against their will in the county.
Since 2013, police have identified 30 suspects and 20 victims of the crimes: trafficking for the purpose of exploitation, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and holding a person in slavery or servitude.
Detective Superintendent David Cutler, head of the protecting vulnerable people directorate in Suffolk, said people who committed these crimes were often charged with other serious offences due to lack of evidence.
“Trafficking offences carry very severe sentences and we work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service because of the complexity of evidence,” Det Supt Cutler added.
“The evidence around trafficking isn’t always as straight forward as other criminal offences. Many of them won’t result in charges for trafficking but for other serious offences deemed more appropriate to charge in.
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“If we have trafficking with rape attached then actually the rape offence is what we would go for.”
Det Supt Cutler said officers in the county had in the past found people being trafficked for the agricultural industry, such as mushroom factories, where people would be forced to work in fields through gang masters.
“That sort of thing is common to lots of rural areas,” he added. “The employment is there, it’s how they find that employment and the conditions and money they get for it.
“They are exploited in the sense they are brought over, not put in the best accommodation, not fed, having passports taken away and feeling trapped in that environment – knowing that they are not getting a good deal but not being able to do anything about it.
“We have had cases before where people are told they don’t need to bring clothes because everything will be provided for them, but then they get here and they get no clothes and they are put in a shared accommodation and three months down the line they only get £20.
“We have certainly experienced cases linked to organised crime gangs, some people brought over to Suffolk from Europe to be exploited for the sex industry and for forced labour.”
Trafficking means the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of a person by means of threat or force for the purpose of exploitation. It does not require that a person be moved from one country to another – it could be from one part of Suffolk to a different part of Suffolk.
According to the police data, the trafficking suspects were found in: Ipswich (15), Bury St Edmunds (seven), Brandon (three), Beck Row (two), Leiston (one), Lowestoft (one) and Ingham (one).
And the victims were in: Ipswich (12), Brandon (three), Beck Row (two), Lowestoft (one), Ingham (one) and Leiston (one).
Det Supt Cutler, who has worked in this field for three years and in Suffolk Constabulary for 12 years, said these locations were likely to be where the suspects and victims were living, but not necessarily working.
“Where people may be exploited within, say, the agriculture industry they won’t be working in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich or Lowestoft but their accommodation will be there so that’s where we record the crimes,” he said.
“If you are doing something illegal then it’s much easier to hide it in a high concentration of housing where people ask less questions rather than in smaller rural areas where people tend to know a bit more about what’s going on.”
Det Supt Cutler said Suffolk Constabulary had always recognised the need to view people as victims of trafficking even when they were committing criminal offences.
Anyone who is identified as a victim will have their information passed over to the Government’s National Referral Mechanism, which will work to ensure they get the right support.
According to the figures, most of the suspects and victims of trafficking in Suffolk were from European countries including Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Latvia and Spain.
Suffolk Constabulary has a dedicated team that investigates offences linked to trafficking and exploitation and also has a force action plan in place to ensure the constabulary is following the best national protocol.
“We are not seeing a huge increase in these offences but we are not complacent and not naive to the fact things go on and we can’t see everything, which is why are always trying to improve the way we gather intelligence and find the wider picture,” said Det Supt Cutler.
If you have information relating to exploitation, call police on 101.