Human trafficking has long history in UK says Solicitor General

Solicitor General Oliver Heald – WNN SOAPBOX

UK human trafficking map
An online human trafficking map outlines the areas inside the UK where more illegal activity by traffickers is occurring according to the number of reported victims of exploitation. Image: UKhomeofffice on Flickr

(WNN) London, UNITED KINGDOM, WESTERN EUROPE: Member of Parliament at the House of Commons and Solicitor General for England and Wales Oliver Heald spoke out recently in mid June, 2013 saying progress to stop human trafficking in the UK has been implemented, but crime and abuse by traffickers is still actively taking place within the region. . .

Human Trafficking has both global and local aspects which I will be examining in this speech. The UK has started to achieve significant progress in the fight against trafficking. The government launched a Human Trafficking Strategy in 2011 which takes a comprehensive approach to preventing trafficking activity and maintaining effective care for victims. Make no mistake; we are constantly reviewing how we in Government tackle this evil which threatens the liberties of millions and is a new form of slavery. As you know I am Solicitor General, and the role of the Law Officers is to superintend the prosecuting services in England and Wales. Prosecution is very much the focus of my remarks today.

I know from discussions that Politeia is concerned about this issue. On your Westminster Advisory Group you have my parliamentary colleague Frank Field MP. Frank has been working tirelessly on this issue in recent years. He is the Vice Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation and a member of the Advisory Council for The Centre for Social Justice which recently published a comprehensive report on Human Trafficking in the UK, to shine a light on some of the challenges we face. This and the press coverage that accompanied the report have reinforced the urgency to tackle the scourge of human trafficking. I pay tribute to this work and all campaigners.

My parliamentary constituency is North East Hertfordshire. Within it, at Wadesmill, there is a monument marking the spot where, in June 1785, Thomas Clarkson rested his horse on the way from Cambridge to London. Clarkson had just won a university prize for an essay on the topic, ‘Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?’ While Clarkson was resting his horse he realised that “it was time some person should see these calamities [the slave trade] to their end”. Clarkson devoted his life to campaigning for the abolition of slavery. His energy and determination, and that of other ‘abolitionists’ like William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano, led first to the outlawing of the slave trade in British territories and then to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

You might expect that a problem that had been ‘abolished’ such a long time ago would no longer trouble our society. Important as those achievements were, I am sorry to say the ‘unconsenting’ are still enslaved today. Human Trafficking threatens the Human Rights of millions every year and represents a new form of slavery. No civilised society should allow such torment of people within their communities.

The seriousness with which the government treats this issue is shown by the fact that its response is formulated and overseen by a dedicated Inter Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking (chaired by my Ministerial colleague Mark Harper at the Home Office, and of which I am a member). This acts as the UK ‘rapporteur’ on this issue. Each signatory state to the EU Directive on Trafficking has a Rapporteur responsible for carrying out assessments of trends in trafficking in human beings, gathering statistics, measuring the results of anti-trafficking actions, and regularly reporting to the public. We reported on our progress in eliminating this scourge in our Inter – Departmental report which was published in October 2012 and can be found on the Home Office website, we will continue to do so on an annual basis. I urge you to read this report and help us shape our future work in this area.

Our knowledge and experience of trafficking in the UK is always growing. Traffickers are consistently evolving their routes, their methods of control and who they target and so our knowledge too must be kept up to date. I hope that today that I can do justice to some of the successes we have had in combating this evil, and where we have yet to succeed.

I’d like to take you through some of the challenges our criminal justice system faces when tackling this modern day slavery. I’ll describe how we are working abroad to better tackle trafficking at the source, how we prosecute traffickers in the UK, what we are doing to ensure that victims of trafficking who come to the attention of the police because of their involvement in criminal activities linked to the trafficking are not prosecuted, and finally highlight two landmark cases that point to the problem of trafficking and enslavement within the UK.

Human Trafficking is the second largest organised crime in the world; at any given time the profits of traffickers worldwide are estimated in excess of $32 billion each year.

Our solutions must therefore be global. It is not good enough to wait for victims to be trafficked to our shores before we act. We need to work more effectively to prevent these people from being trafficked in the first place. This is where the Crown Prosecution Service, supported by the Foreign Office and Dept for International Development, is doing some very good work.

One of the most significant legislative changes we have made in recent years was to introduce, through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases helping us take stronger action at the source of many of the problems. This means we can prosecute cases where the defendant has organised the trafficking in the UK but the victims have been trafficked anywhere in the world. This will help us tackle the most serious organised criminal networks.

In order to effectively prosecute these traffickers we need evidence from such jurisdictions. The CPS are working with law enforcement colleagues to improve evidence gathering in cases by forming ‘Joint Investigation Teams’ (JITs) where prosecutors and investigators from the UK, source and transit countries, cooperate to dismantle and prosecute the whole chain of traffickers. There have been 4 such JITs on human trafficking in recent times. In one such JIT between the UK and Romania, law enforcement and prosecutors worked together to arrest and charge 26 alleged traffickers in Romania responsible for trafficking hundreds of children into the UK.

We are also taking action at a strategic level to strengthen the capacity of our foreign partners to help us fight this crime. CPS ‘Criminal Justice Advisers’ (CPS prosecutors) are now stationed overseas in 17 countries (and counting). They work with our international partners to support criminal justice systems to improve their rule of law. These advisors share our journey in seeking to put the victims of crime at the heart of the criminal justice system and our expertise in bringing perpetrators to justice and confiscating their assets.

Alex Agbamu is one such adviser. He is working in Abuja, Nigeria (funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to help to improve the criminal justice response to all forms of serious crime which impact on the United Kingdom.

In 2012, 205 potential victims of human trafficking from Nigeria were referred into the National Referral Mechanism, (the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care). This identifies Nigeria as our most prevalent source country.

Victims are primarily women and girls who are exploited in the sex industry and domestic servitude, not always here in the UK but sometimes pass through en-route to the sex trade in Europe. These may have paid as much as EUR 70 000 for their passage to Europe, a debt which enforces their enslavement.

A significant means of controlling these women and girls is through the practice of “ju-ju” (a form of witchcraft) which is common in some communities across West Africa. A ceremony serves as a blessing on the trip abroad, and at the same time the victim also promises to repay their debts for the cost of the trip.

Our first successful prosecution for trafficking females out of the UK was a case such as this, the defendant, Anthony Harrison, held a senior position in an organised and well supported criminal network that systematically trafficked young women into the UK for sexual exploitation. Both girls who were victims in this case came from small villages in Edo State, Nigeria, and were sold into prostitution with the help of the local Ju-Ju priest. The girls had been subjected to Ju-ju magic rituals and believed that they would die if they disobeyed their captors or sought help. In this case the CPS enlisted the expertise of a West African anthropologist with a specific interest in Nigeria and witchcraft practices. Evidence given by this witness enabled the jury to better understand the circumstances of the case and why the victims’ evidence had been piecemeal and, on the face of it, inconsistent. Harrison was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

So, returning for a moment to Alex. How is he having an impact on these cases? Alex is advising the Nigerian government on the drafting of a Code for Prosecutors which will bring consistency and accountability to decisions to prosecute, the effective management of cases and case building and implementation of agreements with other Criminal Justice partners. He is also helping to build capacity within the Nigerian criminal justice system and has been requested to support training at NAPTIP, which is the Nigerian Agency which responds to human trafficking.

It is work like that of Alex which is essential in ensuring that there are no safe havens for traffickers.”

Bringing traffickers to justice through effective prosecution is where my ministerial responsibility lies. In addition to the work overseas we must employ the wide range of legislation at our disposal to prosecute traffickers in the UK. The main offences of trafficking include:

  • • the Sexual Offences Act 2003 criminalised the trafficking into, within, and out of, the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
  • • the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 criminalised trafficking into, within, and out of, the UK for all other forms of exploitation. This legislation is also sufficiently wide for prosecutors to prosecute traffickers for a wide range of exploitative conduct.
  • • the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 criminalises those who hold another person in slavery or servitude or require them to perform forced or compulsory labour.

All these offences attract maximum penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment on conviction and the first two are ‘life-style offences’ for the purposes of proceeds of crime, so the CPS can deprive the defendant of the financial benefit that he or she has obtained from criminal conduct through a confiscation order.

In 2011 39 defendants were prosecuted for at least one of those offences. But compare that number to the 1,186 victims referred to the NRM in 2012, and we can see that there is work to be done to support the proper investigation of these crimes.

I want to use this opportunity to illuminate the work of the prosecutor. Whenever prosecutors consider one of the trafficking offences they will also consider a wide range of violent and sexual offences that can be charged if the evidence obtained does not support offences of trafficking (or it was not in a form that is reliable and admissible in our courts). Sometimes these other, less complex offences, often with a similar penalty, for example rape, may be able to be proved. CPS data indicates there were 148 such defendants prosecuted last year, 70% of whom were convicted.

This is why Helen Grant (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, Women and Equalities and Minister for Victims and the Courts) and I have asked CPS and MOJ analysts to look in closer detail at those offenders who were not prosecuted for human trafficking, but where a charge for another offence was made to see what happened in those cases. We want to see what alternative charges were selected and learn lessons from this so that we build stronger cases in the future.

We have also become aware that, increasingly, traffickers are trafficking adults and children into criminal activity for their financial benefit. This involves a variety of criminal exploitation from street crime and ATM thefts, which Romanian children are forced to commit and was subject of the JIT with Romania I spoke about earlier, controlling the prostitution of other trafficked women and girls and commercial cannabis cultivation. Vietnamese youths are trafficked into cannabis farms to cultivate the plants, often with street value of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The first time it comes to the attention of the authorities is when the victims themselves are arrested charged and prosecuted. The CPS has issued legal guidance to advise prosecutors of the steps they should take to ensure that full enquiries are made in these cases and, if information shows that they have been trafficked, the case against them should be discontinued.

But often these victims don’t feel confident in disclosing their situation and are not identified until they are serving prison sentences. It is critical that the CPS have the information they need to show that people they may be charging and prosecuting are in fact trafficked victims. The CPS is doing a significant amount of work with the police, immigration officers and duty solicitors at police stations to ensure they are properly identified.

There have recently been five cases in the court of appeal in which victims of trafficking had been prosecuted and convicted of offences of cultivation of cannabis and one case of an immigration document fraud. The CPS had no information in these cases that the defendants were in fact victims and have conceded those cases.

The CPS is launching new guidelines to prosecutors shortly which give further direction on what they should do; this is to be circulated also to law enforcement to ensure a joined up approach in dealing with such cases.

I would like to finish by talking to you about two landmark cases in the fight to tackle internal trafficking and slavery and servitude within the UK. Since coming to office I have been appalled by the unseen and varied ways in which people can be abused in this country.

The first is a story of men who were forced into slavery and servitude. Over the course of many years countless men were picked off the streets or from soup kitchens by members of the Connors family and taken to a caravan park. These were vulnerable men who were targeted because of those vulnerabilities. Some were street homeless, some had drug and alcohol problems and some were very isolated. They were kept in squalid conditions at a caravan park, made to work up to 19 hours a day, six days a week for nothing and slept in sheds and horseboxes. They were also verbally abused and beaten and threatened to be killed if they ever tried to leave. One victim said that living at the caravan site was like being in a “concentration camp”. When the police raided the caravan park they discovered 24 men– some had been there for up to 15 years in a state of slavery.

This form of slave labour happened here in the UK and we must make sure it does not happen again.

The CPS is working with the Gangmasters Licencing Authority (GLA), who regulate the seasonal labour market. They are working together to build more effective and pro-active investigations to support prosecutions for forced labour and slavery of this type. Often within the agricultural and fisheries industries, migrant labour is exploited. Workers can be subjected to threats and normal terms and conditions of employment flouted. Through their work, the GLA are in a unique position to identify vulnerable victims who may have been trafficked, but are often subject of forced or compulsory labour. However, the GLA currently do not have investigative powers to investigate serious criminal offences which they encounter. The CPS has entered into an agreement with the GLA to advise them, via the police, on charges which reflect the criminal conduct they have encountered. But we are keen to explore other ways of working with the GLA to improve multi-agency working to respond to this crime.

The second story that I would like to acknowledge is that of six girls from Oxford who were drugged and suffered appalling abuse while aged between 11 and 15. These girls were hired out to a large group of men for gang abuse sessions that could go on for days, returning to Oxford with injuries and sexually-transmitted diseases. Some had also been beaten, burnt and threatened. Those girls were brave enough to provide evidence and support the police when the abuse was reported and as a result seven men have been convicted of a range of offences including trafficking and are due to be sentenced on 26 June.

As the DPP had already said (before the conclusion of this case), we are at a watershed moment in responding to this kind of sexual exploitation that can involve the internal trafficking of children within and between our cities.

The starting point for any prosecutor reviewing an allegation of child sexual abuse must be that the child or young person is giving a reliable and honest account of what has happened to them. We must believe these girls and acknowledge that anyone who has been the victim of child abuse may be extremely damaged by the abuse that they have suffered. They may not display the ‘usual’ behaviours that one might expect from a victim of serious crime – for instance, by voluntarily returning to their abusers. Prosecutors should assess whether there is any believable/independent evidence to suggest that the complainant has malicious intent to make a false allegation. If no such evidence exists then this may go to strengthen their credibility. Whilst prosecutors should look for ‘corroboration’ of the victim’s account where it is available they should not use the lack of ‘corroboration’ as a reason not to proceed with a case. Prosecutors should be building a case around the complainant’s account.

I would like to repeat the words of Baljit Ubhey, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Oxford who spoke after the verdicts on the 14 May: ‘those who are abusing victims in this way are on notice’. The CPS are becoming increasingly adept at securing convictions and delivering justice for victims. This will be further strengthened by the DPP’s new guidelines for prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse which have been published today for consultation and were drafted with significant input from victim’s charities, the judiciary, the defence community, the police, prosecutors and many more.

Human trafficking is a global issue. The UK takes the issue seriously and uses the international framework to properly create and apply domestic legislation.

Human Trafficking is also a local issue. I have described the horrific forms of abuse can take place entirely within our borders. A robust criminal justice response to all forms of this modern slavery is fundamental to our fight to eliminate trafficking.

We cannot operate in a vacuum, either domestically or internationally (which is why the CPS works hard to support other jurisdictions and partners such as the Gangmaster Licensing Agency).

I’m delighted by the announcement made by the Lord Chancellor that the pre-recording of evidence and cross examination will be available to young and vulnerable victims. Cross examination can be painful for witnesses, it will be less stressful for it to be carried out in advance of the trial.

It is crucial that our continuing aim is to ensure there are no safe havens for traffickers and that their victims are fully and properly protected. This is as important globally as it is locally. The government is committed to seeing that this is achieved.


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