UK police must 'up their game', says anti-slavery commissioner


The UK's anti-slavery commissioner has called on police to "up their game" on the issue, as he warned authorities are not in a "fair fight" with criminal gangs.

Kevin Hyland said modern slavery demands a similar response to other serious crimes and spoke of a need for a "cultural shift" to ensure more perpetrators are caught.

In an interview with the Press Association, he raised concerns about resources devoted to the problem, describing investment by the international community as "shockingly poor".

Modern slavery includes forced labour or criminality, domestic servitude and trafficking, and official estimates suggest there are up to 13,000 potential victims in the UK.

Mr Hyland was appointed as the country's first independent anti-slavery commissioner 18 months ago to spearhead the Government's response.

In his latest assessment, he suggested the issue was not receiving sufficient resources.

"If we looked across the UK today, what would be the numbers of police officers looking at drugs and narcotics, for example? What would be the number that are looking at counter-terrorism?" he said.

"Quite rightly there would be very large numbers looking at both. 

"But if we look at a crime where the commodity suddenly becomes a human being, what are the numbers looking at this crime? I think they would be shockingly low. This needs to be addressed like any other serious organised crime."

Mr Hyland continued: "If you look up and down the country you would find in every policing area a response that's available to deal with drugs crime, sexual exploitation, volume crime - and quite rightly so. 

"But actually this crime is of such a high risk and so prevalent that forces really need to up their game on this and start to respond to it in the same way."

Organised criminal groups are estimated to be making £150 billion a year from human trafficking, modern slavery and forced labour, the commissioner said.

"Yet the investment by the international community is shockingly poor, estimated to be in the region of a billion," he said. "How can that be a fair fight?"

Mr Hyland said he wanted to see a "really big increase" in the number of offenders pursued through the criminal justice system.

"We need a cultural shift in policing to understand this is a crime that needs a persistent pursuit of those who commit these crimes," he said.

He stressed there have been "significant improvements" in some areas, with dedicated responses which have led to an increase in recording, arrests and prosecutions.

But in other places "we see very little response", he said, adding: "I'm still seeing failings whereby cases are missed because they are not identified as trafficking or they are misidentified as something else."

Mr Hyland also highlighted the issue of crime recording, saying it was "nowhere near good enough".

He said: "How can it be that in 2016 people are reporting crime to law enforcement agencies and then it's not being recorded properly?

"Incidents which are suggesting there's human trafficking and modern slavery are being reported to the statutory agencies, but for some reason they are not recording it in what is the recognised way as required by the Home Office's national recording standards.

"That is something which is pure basics."