Vulnerable people forced to work in Cheshire were the focus of a special police operation after officers carried out action in Crewe.
Officers from Crewe Local Policing Unit worked with colleagues from a number of agencies in the pre-planned operation on Wednesday, 17 May.
The agencies included the National Crime Agency (NCA), Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Cheshire East Council and the NHS.
The action took place at addresses and businesses to raise awareness of modern slavery and show the work officers do on a daily basis to tackle the issue across the county.
A total of seven premises were visited and staff were spoken to. A number of issues including housing, health and safety and environmental health were identified at some of these premises and these will now be followed up by the relevant agency.
Detective Sergeant Clare Ellis, of the force's Modern Slavery Coordinator, said: "Unfortunately slavery is happening today, in our communities and officers, along with partner agencies, are working hard to identify and bring to justice those who so cruelly exploit vulnerable people.
"The impact modern slavery has on victims is devastating. Our work continues but in order to protect victims and identify perpetrators, I cannot stress enough how much we need the help of the public to come forward with any suspicions or information they might have.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is that many victims do not realise they are victims. This is why it is so important to recognise the signs and behaviours associated with this type of crime, to look out for potential victims and to report any concerns you may have – no matter how insignificant they may seem.”
Modern slavery stems from organised crime and targets some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Victims are tricked into coming to the UK with a promise of a good job and a better life. Instead, they are deceived and forced into or are expected to accept a life of abuse, working in terrible conditions with very little reward.
Here are some of the common signs that may indicate that someone is a victim of modern slavery
• Appearance: Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, or appear withdrawn
• Isolation: Victims may rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work
• Poor living conditions: Victims may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and / or living and working at the same address
• Few or no personal effects: Victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work
• Restricted freedom of movement: Victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work
• Unusual travel times: They may be dropped off / collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night
• Reluctant to seek help: Victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.
Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner David Keane said: “One of my policing priorities is to support victims and protect the vulnerable.
"Slavery is a hidden crime, which sees victims suffer in silence, often feeling alone and terrified, often not knowing how to escape the situation.
"The action carried out by officers and partners highlights the excellent work being done across Cheshire. I hope the action taken by officers gives victims the courage to speak out as well as reassure them are committed to eradicating this terrible crime.”
Head of Operations for the GLAA Ian Waterfield added: “Time and again we see workers brought to the UK on the promise of a better life - only to be later exploited by ruthless criminal groups who care only about the money they can make.
“Our remit is to work in partnership to protect vulnerable workers throughout the UK. We will continue to work side-by-side with Cheshire Police, and other forces, to try and prevent exploitation from taking place in the labour market.”
Director of Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery for The Salvation Army, Anne Read said: “The number of victims of modern slavery being referred to The Salvation Army to receive specialist support from us and our partners is growing significantly year on year.
“We work with survivors of this heinous crime as they begin the long journey to rebuild their lives and their trust in humanity. We also call on the public to make it their business to look out for the signs that someone they encounter might be a victim of modern slavery and to report their suspicions."
Lizzi Trueblood, British Red Cross Operations Manager for Emergency Response in the North of England said: “The Red Cross has been asked by Cheshire Police to provide support to anyone who comes forward as a result of this operation, at a place of safety.
“The Red Cross works alongside emergency services across the UK to help those in crisis.”
For help and advice visit www.modernslavery.co.uk or call the helpline number 0800 0121 700.
If anybody suspects or has any information of crimes relating to modern slavery they are urged to report it to Cheshire Police on 101.