Victims of slavery and human trafficking reported in Britain have almost doubled to 7,000 in just two years – fuelled by ‘county lines’ drug gangs.
Potential victims from 130 different countries were identified last year, reveals a new report.
But detectives warned that the figures “represent only a snapshot of the true scale” of slavery and trafficking in the UK.
Figures released by the National Crime Agency (NCA) – the UK’s equivalent to the FBI – show the number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities has risen by more than 80 per cent in two years,
The National Referral Mechanism end of year summary shows that 6,993 potential victims were referred into the system last year – up from 5,142 in 2017, and 3,804 in 2016.
For the second consecutive year British citizens made up the largest nationality (1,625), with Albanians (947) and Vietnamese (702) second and third, according to the report.
The number of British citizens reported was almost double the number from 2017, while the numbers of children referred increased by 48 per cent.
Both increases were driven by the numbers referred for labour exploitation, which includes those exploited for criminal purposes by ‘County Lines’ gangs.
Overall those referred in the labour exploitation category made up more than half of the total number.
Roy McComb, the NCA’s deputy director, said: “The increase is undoubtedly the result of greater awareness, understanding and reporting of modern slavery and that is something to be welcomed.
“However, the more we look the more we find, and it is likely these figures represent only a snapshot of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.
“Of particular concern is the increase in referrals made for ‘county lines’ type exploitation. These are often vulnerable individuals – often children – who are exploited by criminal gangs for the purposes of drug trafficking.”
He added: “Our understanding of the threat is much greater than it was a few years ago, and modern slavery remains a high priority for law enforcement, with around 1,500 criminal investigations currently live in the UK.
“But we cannot stop modern slavery alone, we need support and assistance from across the public and private sectors, NGOs and most of all the public themselves.”
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.
It is also the way through which information is collected about victims, helping to build a clearer picture about the scope of the threat.
Under the existing NRM process potential victims are referred by ‘first responders’ – including the police.
But from April 29 this year the Home Office will become the single authority for dealing with referrals. It is part of a package of reforms to the NRM announced in October 2017 to improve identification of and support for victims of modern slavery.