I am Inspector Gareth Coombs, and I am the tactical lead for Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking for Bedfordshire Police.
Most people think that slavery was abolished hundreds of years ago, but unfortunately it is still very much happening today, and it has become a real, and increasing, problem in our society.
Modern slavery exists in many different forms, such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and street crime. The victims themselves are often vulnerable people, who may have been living rough, or are looking for a better life after fleeing persecution or war in their own countries. Sadly, many do not realise they are victims and don’t come forward for help.
According to human rights organisation, Anti-slavery International, it is estimated that as many as 13,000 people are victims in the UK. There were 18 slavery crimes recorded in Bedfordshire last year, but this is not indicative of the actual number as modern slavery is often a hidden crime. This makes it a priority for us as a police force, so raising awareness is crucial.
Tackling modern slavery is everyone’s business. We all have a duty to be vigilant in spotting the signs.
Does someone you know, or see regularly, appear to be fearful, anxious, depressed or avoid eye contact? Do they lack general healthcare or appear to be malnourished? Do they have few or no possessions? Do they seem to have no control over their own finances or identification documents?
Our officers are doing a great job in investigating and uncovering these types of crimes in our county. We work closely with the National Crime Agency on Project Aidant, which allows us to work closely with partner organisations in tackling this serious criminality.
In March we focused on the Western Balkans, and have targeted a number of car washes throughout the county that are predominately owned by Albanian or Polish nationals. The owners were shown to be paying their workers below the minimum wage, had people living on site in appalling conditions, with facilities that fail to meet even the basic level of health and safety standards.
If you have any information about modern slavery, you can contact us in confidence by using the reporting centre on our website, by calling 101 or by calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
You can also contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 0121 700 or visit the Modern Slavery website.