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Modern slavery: Minister’s visit to unit set up to improve police response

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Victims at the heart of policing

Victims are at the heart of policing in the UK and this includes those who are victims of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Police Transformation Programme, based in Exmouth, helps forces across the country to identify cases of slavery and train investigators in the techniques that work best to support victims and tackle offenders.

The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Sarah Newton, is today, Wednesday 8 November 2017, visiting the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit in Exmouth. 

Last year, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Alison Hernandez, and Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer approached the Home Secretary for support to improve gaps they had identified in the way in which the police tackled modern slavery. They were granted £8.5 million from the national police transformation fund to deliver a response on behalf of all police forces in England and Wales.

The Unit they set up has already assisted investigators to make progress in the fight against modern slavery. Forces have been helped to improve support for vulnerable victims and bring their perpetrators to justice. 

National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) national policing lead for modern slavery and Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Shaun Sawyer, said:  “I am honoured to welcome the minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, Sarah Newton, to Exmouth today and to have the opportunity to show her how the Unit is already having a positive impact on the police response to modern slavery.”

PCC Alison Hernandez said: “Modern slavery affects communities across the UK. Exmouth has not been untouched by reports of slavery, but neither is it a focal point. The unit has been established here in order to make best use of our police estate.  Brilliant investigators and police staff from all over the country with expertise in tackling trafficking have temporarily joined Devon and Cornwall to enable us to run this team of 70 people with minimal abstractions from our force.  On any given day, the transformation unit will have staff working all over England and Wales, indeed some postings are as far afield as Europol. I’m hugely proud that Devon and Cornwall are leading in such an important national initiative.”

Chief Constable Sawyer said: “The inhumanity demonstrated by offenders of this crime is far greater than I have seen in my entire career tackling organised crime and terrorism. The human cost in stolen lives and stolen futures is high. 

“Modern slavery is an incredibly complex crime to unravel. It is vital that we keep victims at the heart of our approach. There are many dedicated investigators across the country who are tenacious in their pursuit of those who exploit others in this way. There have been a number of successful modern slavery prosecutions this year and these are testament to this.

 “For example, here in Devon and Cornwall we had a successful prosecution which saw offenders sentenced for perverting the course of justice in connection to modern slavery. We believe this was the first trial of its kind and it was linked to the Force’s first successful prosecution for human trafficking last year. The Unit is able to extract the learnings from each investigation and share it with other police forces so that we can continue to improve how we tackle modern slavery.

“Identifying and investigating modern slavery is rarely clear cut and involves overcoming many challenges to safeguard and support the victim. Officers across the country have already received victim focussed training delivered by the Unit, which is having a positive impact and equipping police with the specialist knowledge and skills they need. 

“The transformation programme helps bridge the gap between forces and other agencies and facilitates information sharing on local, national and international levels. For the first time we have an overview of operational activity in all 43 police forces; links can be made and good practice identified. The net around groups of offenders who exploit people in this way is tightening.

“The police service continues to identify more victims of slavery in the UK than any other statutory agency and is increasingly proactive in seeking out and uncovering modern slavery.  Locally and nationally, we know that when we actively seek this type of harm out, we find it. Across England and Wales there are currently over 400 active investigations, an increase of 218% since November 2016, just over four times as many as when the Modern Slavery Act was launched. 

“There is an active Anti-Slavery Partnership in the south west, and all of the community safety partnerships across Devon and Cornwall are supporting initiatives to raise awareness of the indicators of slavery particularly in sectors where our local risk may be higher: accommodation, hospitality, agriculture, informal labour and the food processing industry.

“The government has set a challenging target: to eradicate slavery globally. The police service is responding, but we each have a role to play. People across the region must begin difficult conversations about the demand for cheap goods and services which fuels slavery both here and across the world. We need the public to contact the police when they are uncomfortable or believe a person may be at risk. Only by working together can we make modern slavery a thing of the past.”



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Devon & Cornwall Police, Press office
Police headquarters, Middlemoor

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