Task Force Celebrates First-Year Success In Tackling Modern Slavery

7 Apr 2021

This month, Humberside Police celebrate the one-year anniversary of Operation Wilberforce, the task force set up to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) in our area. In its first twelve months, the task force has helped to protect and rehabilitate 120 victims whose lives have been directly affected by MSHT.

More than 150 investigations by Operation Wilberforce into reports of MSHT have led to 76 arrests across the course of the last year. This follows a successful communications campaign, ‘What Do You See?’, which aimed to educate the public in identifying potential victims, highlighting how crimes such as modern slavery are often ‘hidden in plain sight’ in everyday life. To date, the task force has received 341 reports of MSHT.

Operation Wilberforce is a key strand of the strategy of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, which has recently received national recognition with a Certificate of Excellence from the iESE, marking its significant innovation in transforming local public services.  

Detective Chief Inspector Christine Calvert, Operation Wilberforce lead at Humberside Police, said: “We’ve made significant progress during our first year, providing rehabilitation and support to victims of these shocking crimes, giving them the tools to make a meaningful recovery and lead normal lives. We’ve also protected potential slavery victims by proactively targeting organised crime groups who prey on the vulnerable.

“There’s always more progress to be made, and we’re committed to continuing our fight against these crimes. Sadly, modern slavery is still all too often hidden in plain sight, in shops, factories, houses - all around us. Our campaign in 2020 sought to highlight that ‘slavery’ isn’t always what you might think it is – it can be happening in seemingly normal, everyday situations, for example, someone washing your car at a hand car wash, or someone providing cut-rate beauty treatments.

“We are very grateful to the public for their ongoing assistance in reporting concerning incidents. We ask that they remain vigilant and inform us of anything suspicious, helping us to keep the vulnerable people within our communities safe.”

Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership said, "It has been without doubt an incredibly successful first year for the Operation Wilberforce team. As a key strand of our wider partnership strategy to tackle slavery and trafficking, Humberside police are the vanguard of bringing perpetrators to justice and protecting vulnerable people across our force area. The Operation Wilberforce team are leading the way in developing intelligence, disrupting organising crime that fits the definition under the modern slavery act 2015 and helping ensure we build stronger and more resilient communities together.

“Modern Slavery is hidden in plain sight. However the vail of secrecy, control, manipulation and violence these criminals hide behind is beginning to lift exposing them for exactly what they are. Slavery exists in our rural and urban environments, from forced labour to sexual and criminal exploitation such as county lines and affecting our children and adult populations in equal measure. It destroys lives, breaks up families and puts us all at risk.

“By working together to safeguard communities and empower victims we are sending a clear message to exploiters and serious organised crime groups - We will not tolerate your exploitation and abuse of others, you cannot hide in the shadows any longer.

“The despicable criminal activities of those who seek to exploit people for financial or criminal gain are now firmly under the spotlight for all to see in the UK. In Humberside we are making excellent progress in discovering and exposing those criminals who prey on people in our own communities.

“From increased knowledge and skills among professionals to the rise in reporting by the public, we move forward with a vastly improved partnership response that I am certain will see another highly successful year for the Operation Wilberforce team."

Potential victims of modern slavery might display any or many of the following signs: 

  1. Suffering from physical or psychological abuse, appearing withdrawn and looking dishevelled 
  2. Never seen travelling alone
  3. Avoiding eye contact and seeming reluctant to have a conversation
  4. Appearing fearful of authorities – in particular, law enforcement
  5. Seeming unfamiliar with the neighbourhood in which they are living and working 
  6. Living in overcrowded accommodation
  7. Having very few personal possessions
  8. Having no access to personal ID documents
  9. Being dropped off and collected at work every day - either very early, or very late 
  10. Seemingly being under the influence of other people

If you believe someone may be a victim of modern day slavery, please dial 999 in an emergency.

Alternatively, call 101 to report information which may aid us in making an arrest, or direct your call anonymously via the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 121 700 or Crimestoppers on 0800 111 555. You can also complete this online form.