An account by Cumberland Lodge Research Associate, Caitlyn McGeer, on the 'Eliminating Slavery: Enhancing the Police Response' seminar held in London in October 2017

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
Caitlyn McGeer

On Monday 30 October 2017, 50 stakeholders involved in the fight against modern slavery in the UK gathered in London for a seminar at the House of Commons, on enhancing the police response. The seminar addressed learning and action points raised during the Cumberland Lodge Conference on ‘Eliminating Slavery: Enhancing the Police Response’ that took place in April 2017.

Delegates representing the Police, non-governmental organisations, academia, the private sector, and government bodies attended. The seminar was chaired by Chief Constable Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and speakers included: Sarah Newton MP, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability; Will Kerr, Director of Vulnerabilities, National Crime Agency; Major Anne Read, Director of Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery, Salvation Army; and The Rt Rev Alastair Redfern, Independent Chair of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel.

What has improved?

In the six months since the conference, a series of proactive steps have been taken to enhance the police response to eliminating slavery, which both warrant acknowledgement and give grounds for optimism.

Delegates at the Westminster seminar referenced a 157% rise in policing operations on slavery since April, as well as a general sense of improvements in understanding of the scope of modern slavery (including its deep links to organised crime groups). There has been a surge in proactive policing efforts: for example, in May and June 2017, 110 modern slavery related arrests were made. Police are increasingly using ground-breaking practices to tackle the problem, and non-traditional methods for information gathering have been crucial to more successful interventions.

Further, while a key concern at the conference was whether the political will to combat modern slavery would continue post-election, modern slavery appears to have remained at the forefront of discourse. As a result, delegates reported that the UK probably has the best modern slavery victim support systems in the world and that the UK remains a global leader in responses to modern slavery, and much of the credit for this lies with innovative policing practices.

Delegates also reported that public awareness of modern slavery is increasing, although public reporting of possible cases of modern slavery remains an issue.

What still needs to improve?

Regional discrepancies - While there has been an overall improvement in responses to modern slavery, the extent of the response still varies at a local level. Delegates expressed concern that there is a ‘not in my backyard’ mentality in policing: in many forces, there is a reluctance to believe that modern slavery is actually occurring in their local area.

Victim identification

Although great effort has been put into increasing awareness of modern slavery, this awareness is still not reflected in identification rates. Additional efforts premised on increasing community awareness around victim identification are required. This was referenced as being of particular importance for the health sector.

Delegates stressed that support for victims must be at the heart of responses to modern slavery. In certain cases it can be difficult to ascertain who is a victim and who is an offender. A victim could present as a petty criminal, for example, when in fact they have been bullied and abused into the situation they find themselves in. Some victims are unwilling to seek or take up support if they have separate concerns about their immigration status, and others who have been identified as victims do not self-identify in that way.

Delegates also expressed concern that modern slavery victim support is insufficient to meet the complex needs of child victims, who account for a third of all National Referral Mechanism cases.

Discussion at the seminar emphasised the complexities of how vulnerable people can be exploited, and that this not only requires further research but also a more thorough incorporation into identification practices. For instance, it has becoming increasingly apparent that there are strong links between organised crime groups and modern slavery. Organised crime groups are highly networked, enabling groups to work together to move victims across geographic boundaries at a rapid pace, often following well-established drug trafficking practices and routes. Delegates found that this was notable in the ‘pop-up brothel’ phenomena, in which victims are moved to different locations every 2-3 weeks.

Multi-agency work

Multi-agency partnerships are paramount for properly identifying victims and responding to new intelligence on modern slavery. However, there are great challenges in realising these partnerships in practice. Delegates explained that multi-agency partnerships are often assumed and, because of this, they are often not effectively actualised. One of the main suggestions arising from this point was a proposal to facilitate more joint working in relation to modern slavery, by reassessing the partnership landscape for the purpose of co-ordinating partnerships at the local, national, and international level, to promote increasing recognition of the problem, better information sharing, and more proactive responses. Suggestions included adding a drop-down box for trafficking on Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub forms, and involving actors other than law enforcement representatives at the Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre, and encouraging Police and Crime Commissioners to use their power to commission victim services as a means to foster cross-sector partnerships.

Increasing prosecution rates

Arrest rates are rising, but so far there has been little change in prosecutions rates. Delegates expressed concerns that prosecution methods rely too heavily on traditional victim evidence, when many victims are not in a position to give the evidence that might be required or expected. A better understanding of how victims present and better investigation methods are required to overcome this. Delegates highlighted the importance of using the victim as a starting point for investigations but not as the basis for an entire case. Making better use of financial evidence was one of the suggested methods for enabling more prosecutions, as well as victimless prosecutions.

Key factors for policing progress in 2018

Looking ahead to enhancing the police response in 2018, delegates called for more regularised activity and for modern slavery interventions to be embedded as part of everyday policing practice. Additional recommendations were to increase the use of Risk Orders, to improve understanding about working with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, facilitating more multi-agency work, and gaining a richer knowledge of the influence and operations of organised crime groups.

Conference Report

The full conference report can be downloaded in pdf format from this page.