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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

MEA PCSP meeting urges community to play it’s part to tackle human trafficking

The community has been urged to play its part in a clampdown on human trafficking by reporting suspicious activity, Mid and East Antrim Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) was told at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

PCSP members were informed by PSNI officers Detective Constables Andrew Hull and Anna Crawford of the exploitation by crime gangs who pocket the wages of those brought to Northern Ireland to work or who target the homeless or those who have mental health issues.

Det Const Hull indicated that human trafficking is being run by individuals in Northern Ireland and there is nothing to say it is linked to paramilitaries and there is “no information to indicate that”.

The police say that sexual exploitation is the biggest problem regarding human trafficking at present.

The community has been urged to be alert to the presence of potential brothels. The officer indicated this would involve a “high footfall of men” visiting an address, women who live at the property but are never seen outside or allowed to go anywhere on their own.

He went on to say a case of human trafficking came to light previously when a woman was reported to police for shoplifting condoms.

He explained that although it is not illegal to be a prostitute in Northern Ireland, it is illegal to pay for sexual services.

“We have come across sex payers when doing a welfare check for a possible brothel. Occasionally we would locate a sheepish looking man in one of the bedrooms in a compromising position.

“He can be interviewed at the scene or taken to a police station. Some would get an £85 fine for paying for sexual services or issued with a caution or referred for prosecution.”

The officer went on to say that exploitation can also occur when a trafficker attempts to get work for people through a recruitment agency but has wages paid into one bank account.

Other cases may come to light, he said, for example if someone attends a hospital casualty department with a severe injury which has gone untreated from an agricultural accident, for example.

The PSNI officer went on to say that some crime gangs are sending hundreds of thousands of pounds back to countries such as Romania.

He also highlighted an operation in 2018 during which police spoke to 250 foreign nationals working in car washes across Northern Ireland. The operation was carried out in association with the Health and Safety Executive and HMRC.

The officer explained that it was carried out to “try to establish what exactly was going on” and “what the attraction was for foreign nationals to come to work in a car wash”.

He reported that workers had come from poor areas in Europe and “saw car washes as a way of getting work in the UK before moving on to factory work”.

“Some were not telling the full facts of what was going on. One reported being treated poorly but did not meet the threshold for slavery offences.”

Human trafficking is described as “the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation”.

Exploitation can include: “Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; exploitation; sexual exploitation; removal of organs; securing services by force, threats or deception or securing services from children or vulnerable people.”

PCSP members were also told of the case of a foreign national who was threatened into cultivating cannabis plants after being told that his family would be harmed if he did not comply and others who have had money taken from them after “organised begging”.

The PSNI believes that trafficked people may not believe themselves to be victims of modern slavery.

“If you see something you are uncomfortable with, ring 101 and tell us about it. It is up to us to have a look. It is taken seriously,” said Det Const Hull.

Det Const Crawford said: “In relation to trafficking, it is often referred to as an unseen crime as a result of it being so under-reported but it is important to make people think about what they see. It is all those little things that people will start to see and potentially report them.”

Mid and East Antrim PCSP chair Councillor Danny Donnelly commented:

“This is a very serious subject with some quite disturbing elements. It is horrendous to think this is going on in Northern Ireland with people forced to work in such degrading circumstances. It is shocking to hear that this is going on within our communities.”

Cllr Donnelly urged anyone who witnesses anything suspicious to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Superintendent Michael Simpson said:

“I have no doubt that this is massively under-reported. There is no doubt about it.

“We can put these people in a place of safety. It is not about the figures. It is not about how many people we prosecute but it is about how we make sure we are keeping people safe. It is a moral duty if people come here thinking they are safe, that is a responsibility on all of us.”

The Modern Slavery Helpline can be contacted on 08000 121 700 with any concerns.

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