A national report which has found policing responses to modern slavery across the country could be causing significant harm has been welcomed by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and Wiltshire Police today.

The OPCC said the force has recently improved the way in which it tackles modern slavery with the introduction of a dedicated team to investigate these crimes, as well as a safeguarding team to aid victims, but said that more work was needed - and it was not the problem of the police alone.

These comments came after the report publication of a police super-complaint submitted by Hestia, a charity which advocates on behalf of adults in crisis. It raised concerns that modern slavery victims were not receiving the support and understanding they need from policing service across the UK. 

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found victims are not always made to feel safe and do not always get the support they deserve.

Kieran Kilgallen, Chief Executive for Wiltshire and Swindon OPCC said: “Modern Slavery is a complex crime that many may not think happens in their local communities but unfortunately it is happening in Wiltshire, and across the UK today.

“Wiltshire Police has recently improved the way in which it tackles Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking by introducing a dedicated exploitation and missing team - in addition to a safeguarding team - to address the longer-term safeguarding needs of victims with local authorities.

“One of the priorities in our police and crime plan is to put victims and witnesses at the heart of everything we do - their experiences and needs must be central - but the reality is the police cannot tackle this alone.

"This is where OPCC-commissioned services play a role in helping victims navigate 
the criminal justice system, in addition to partnership working with local authorities.”

Wiltshire and Swindon's OPCC has recently funded ‘Go bags’ for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, which it has supplied to Wiltshire Police, to not only offer victims necessities - including toiletries and a change of clothes - but to also help build their trust in the police.

“While these bags are a small gesture, they play an important role in demonstrating to victims, particularly where English may not be their first language, that the police are there to help them, not criminalise them," Mr Kilgallen added.

Detective Superintendent Phil Walker, from Wiltshire Police’s Public Protection Department, said: “Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking is a serious organised crime that is happening in our county and one that remains a Force priority.

“I welcome this report because - irrespective of how good our systems are, how good our detection rates and care for victims are - there is always room for improvement in such a complex area of policing.” 

The report recommends that the Home Office, chief constables, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, victims’ commissioners and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) work together to better understand victims’ experiences and what improvements they need to make. 

Also included within the report are recommendations that chief constables should:

  • Ensure staff have access to training and specialist knowledge
  • Allocate modern slavery investigations to teams and individuals with the right skills and experience
  • Work together with Police and Crime Commissioners to understand what support victims of modern slavery need

Det Supt Walker continued: “I am pleased to say that all of these areas have been part of our day-to-day work for quite some time.  We have made a great effort to focus on tackling, along with the OPCC and our partners, what is a growing issue in our society.

“We have also recently set up a dedicated Exploitation and Missing Team to specifically deal with modern slavery and human trafficking.

“However, we are never complacent and will continue to review and improve our systems – it’s an evolving situation.

“We continue to strive to ensure that the right resources are given to not only investigating this type of criminality but to guaranteeing the utmost care and attention is given to the vulnerable caught up in this abhorrent crime.”