Kevin Hyland the antislavery commissioner said that even when victims of slavery were identified, there were ‘inconsistencies’ in the number of cases recorded and investigated. Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Only a few victims of modern slavery identified, warns UK commissioner

Britain’s first anti-slavery commissioner has warned that too few victims are being identified while support for those who are is “morally unacceptable”, according to reports from Guardian.

Kevin Hyland said a trade in “human misery” was taking place across Britain on a “shameful scale” and that too few perpetrators are being caught.

Publishing his first strategic plan for tackling modern slavery, the former Metropolitan police detective said improvements were needed in identifying and supporting victims.

“Far too many modern slavery victims in the UK are not receiving an appropriate response,” he said. “Morally, this is unacceptable.”

Hyland was appointed to the role in November to spearhead the government’s fight against modern slavery. He has issued a number of warnings about the scale of the problem. In May he spoke of “Oliver Twist scenarios” taking place on Britain’s streets as children are tasked with pickpocketing, shoplifting and begging.

His latest assessment concludes that modern slavery exists in a “wide variety of brutal forms”, including forced labour, child slavery, forced marriage and human trafficking. He said it was crucial that efforts to identify potential victims are improved.

Home Office estimates suggest there are up to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery. However, last year only 2,340 people were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework established to identify victims and ensure they receive appropriate support.

“Whilst there has been a consistent and sustained increase in the number of potential victims identified since the introduction of the NRM in 2009, significant numbers of victims are not being identified and therefore remain unprotected and in situations of abuse and exploitation,” Hyland’s report said.

It added: “Claims that modern slavery is ‘too hidden a crime’ can no longer be accepted. I am determined to ensure that the mechanisms used to identify, track, record and investigate crimes are watertight so that cases do not slip through the gaps.”

The report also said the response by law enforcement and criminal justice agencies must improve. In 2014/15 the Crown Prosecution Service flagged 187 prosecutions as involving human trafficking offences, with 130 cases leading to conviction. Last year, there were 39 convictions for slavery and human trafficking offences as a “principal offence”.

Hyland said: “At present very few modern slavery crimes come to the attention of police and criminal justice agencies, and very few modern slavery offenders are caught and convicted. This must change.”

Sampling of modern slavery crimes across a number of police forces in England and Wales revealed that even when victims have been identified, there are inconsistencies in the number of cases that are properly recorded and investigated.

“Failure to record modern slavery allegations means that investigations are not being instigated,” the commissioner said. “This directly results in fewer prosecutions and convictions, as it creates an environment where criminals can often operate with impunity. They will be free to exploit other victims under their control, and are likely to continue to ‘source’ further vulnerable people to exploit.”

Commitments set out in the strategic plan include developing high quality training for law enforcement, identifying best practice in victim care, and developing prevention projects in countries of origin.