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Sent back to home countries: Home Office report says there could be >10,000 slaves in UK today
Trafficking gang victims who are caught working in a cannabis farm or forced to run a brothel will escape prosecution.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced a blitz on the ‘scarcely believable’ modern slave trade yesterday amid claims there are up to 10,000 UK victims.
A Home Office bill will introduce a maximum sentence of life in prison for human traffickers, and new guidelines will be issued which state victims should not face prosecution.
A review by Labour MP Frank Field says those who commit crimes after being trafficked usually do so ‘at the behest of their controllers’.
It adds: ‘This may be children and young persons compelled into forced labour in cannabis farms and factories; those who are forced to run a brothel as part of their enslavement; or those in possession of false immigration documents.’
Mrs May warned last month of slaves working in nail bars. She said slavery is ‘all around us, hidden in plain sight’.
Home Secretary Theresa May said that it was impossible to know exactly how many people are being held in conditions of servitude in Britain, but referrals to official agencies suggest that the numbers are growing.
The draft Modern Day Slavery Bill, published today, sets out the Government's plans to tackle the problem of people being trafficked into the UK to work in conditions of slavery.
Thousands of slaves are thought to work in building sites and farms as well as brothels, shops and in domestic servitude.
The bill pulls together into a single act the offences used to prosecute slave-drivers and increases the punishments courts can hand down.
But Mrs May said: ‘The honest position is that we don’t know if that’s the right figure or whether there are fewer or indeed more victims in the UK.
‘What we do know if that we have seen more referrals to what is called the National Referral Mechanism where people are able to refer people who they think have been trafficked,’ she told BBC Radio 4.
‘I mean we have seen more cases being identified in the UK through action by the likes of the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and one of the purposes of bringing the bill forward is to ensure we can enhance our ability to deal with the slavedrivers and therefore reduce the prospect of people being victims in the future.’
Mrs May said one of the obstacles to successful prosecution was the reluctance of victims to come forward because of fears that they might themselves face prosecution or be sent back to their home countries.
New guidance is being drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions to protect victims of slavery from being prosecuted for crimes which they have been forced to commit because of their illegal servitude, she revealed.
However it is thought that because the victims of trafficking and slavery are often also prosuected - such as the case unsuccessfully brought against a group of Vietnamese children forced to work in a cannabis factory – it might deter victims from taking the stand against their exploiters.
Mrs May added: ‘We do need victims to be willing to come forward and give evidence in these cases. ‘That issue of whether or not a victim is going to be treated as a criminal themselves is consistently raised. I have talked to both the former and the current Director of Public Prosecutions about the treatment of victims and about why it is that we are not seeking more prosecutions for trafficking and slavery cases.
‘The DPP and the Crown Prosecution Service are issuing more guidance to make clear the circumstances around this question of where a victim has been forced into criminality because of their servitude, because of what the slave-driver has done.’
The Bill contains provisions to give automatic life sentences to offenders who already have convictions for very serious sexual or violent offences. It introduces Trafficking Prevention Orders to restrict the activity and movement of convicted traffickers and stop them from committing further offences.
And a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be appointed to hold law enforcement and other organisations to account.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the legislation should do more to provide protection for child victims of trafficking. She said: ‘There is cross-party consensus that we need new action to tackle modern-day slavery. And we welcome the limited moves in this Bill.
‘But we would like to see the Bill go further - particularly to provide stronger legal protection for child victims. It is right to increase sentencing for traffickers and to make it easier to prosecute these heinous crimes and prevent repeat offending.’
1.Crime hotspot: Earlier this month police raided brothels, sex shops and lap dancing clubs in Soho in a crackdown on drugs and people trafficking
2. Home Secretary Theresa May said tougher penalties of up to life imprisonment for human traffickers would lead to more prosecutions
3. Labour's Yvette Cooper called for more protection for child victims of trafficking