Failure to tackle child traffickers 'like letting rapist loose in London'

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Britain’s top law enforcement agency has allowed child traffickers to escape justice by ignoring information which could have stopped them preying on victims, the Government’s slavery watchdog warned today.

Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, said that important information about modern slavery offences had “sat dormant” on the National Crime Agency’s databases because the crime was not being taken seriously enough.

As a result, offenders had not been pursued. Measures to protect other potential victims had also not been taken in a failure which he likened to allowing a rapist to “run around London” without police taking action.

Mr Hyland’s comments came in an interview with the Evening Standard in which he also suggested that legislation might be needed to force tech firms to take stronger action to prevent traffickers from using the internet to lure  victims online.

He also disclosed that law enforcement officials from Nigeria are to be deployed at British airports to help identify traffickers and victims as they fly into the country.

His most striking remarks, however, came as he expressed concern about the failure of law enforcers to act on information about victims logged via the “national referral mechanism” and held by the NCA.

Doctor made woman a domestic slave

The problem of modern slavery was highlighted earlier this summer when a London GP and her husband were jailed for trafficking a woman to the capital to exploit her.

Ayodeji Adewakun, 45,  a doctor, and her husband Abimbola Adewakun, 49,  a nurse, both from Bexley, brought the 29-year-old from Nigeria and used her as a domestic slave in their home for more than two years. Their victim was contracted to work from 7am to 5pm from Monday to Saturday looking after the pair’s children for £500 a month. But they paid her nothing and, after being confronted by the woman, only handed over £350.

She never received a day off, worked night and day, and suffered health problems. After protesting, she was banned from using the family bathroom and made to wash her clothes by hand.

At Southwark crown court Dr Adewakun was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for trafficking for the purpose of exploitation. Her husband was jailed for nine months for the same offence.

A total of 3,805 victims from 108 countries were recorded via the system last year after being identified as slaves forced into labour exploitation, prostitution or domestic servitude.

Mr Hyland said recent improvements taken in response to his complaints meant the information was now being used more consistently.

But there had still been too many occasions — including cases involving child slavery victims — on which the data had not been used to track down criminals and prevent further crimes.

He said: “We understand that lots of victims perhaps don’t want to see the police, but once the state has got that information they need to do something about it — see if there are other victims, if there are prevention opportunities.

“Also, even without the victim you can sometimes arrest the offender, as in murder or domestic abuse.

“If we knew there was a rapist running round a part of London and the victims didn’t want to come forward you would hope that the police would take some sort of action with the information that was there. 

“Yet with modern slavery we have had information like that, which has included cases involving children, where there is no proactive response, where the information has just sat there dormant.”

Mr Hyland said that the Home Office had agreed to examine the system in response to his complaints and insisted that trafficking should in future be tackled in the same way as other forms of serious organised crime.

He emphasised that there had been a “sea change” in the NCA’s approach in recent months with the “beginning of a professional response”. But he remained concerned. 

“I want to make sure that all the processes that are there for other crimes are adhered to — that this is seen as equally serious,” he added.

“We know this is crime where somebody operates one minute in eastern Europe, the next minute they are in London, then Birmingham, then Manchester, and unless we bring all that information together and assess it in the correct way we are going to miss opportunities to stop it.”

Mr Hyland also expressed concern about the number of British children being used as slaves, including for activities such as smuggling drugs, with 255 juvenile trafficking victims from this country recorded last year.

He also called on tech firms to do more to stop their services being used by traffickers and warned that legislation might be needed. 

“If you look online, adverts are posted overseas and the promises that are made, you can see some of the jobs are false and they are just luring people over. We need the companies involved to take responsibility.”

Official figures show that forced labour is the most common form of slavery, but there are also many victims of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. One third of cases recorded last year involved children. 

The National Crime Agency said in a statement: “The NCA takes action on every referral it receives. We pass information to police forces so it can be acted on, and rigorously analyse all intelligence, in order to co-ordinate the most effective response against criminals who try to profit from the exploitation of vulnerable people.”

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