HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS)
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Call for concerted and concentrated response to modern slavery

Despite the number of modern slavery and human trafficking cases increasing, police forces are failing to recognise these crimes and protect victims adequately, as set out in a report published yesterday by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

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Stolen freedom: the policing response to modern slavery and human trafficking

The report concluded that there were signs of progress in the policing response to modern slavery. However in too many cases, police work was reactive and showed little understanding of the nature and scale of modern slavery and human trafficking.

This thematic inspection is the first since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. As such, it will act as a benchmark for future inspections of this issue.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, who led the inspection, said:

“In the UK, today and every day, thousands of men, women and children who are victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are being degraded and dehumanised. The police have a crucial role to play in protecting these people and preventing offenders from exploiting others.

“Whilst modern slavery cases can be complex and require significant manpower, many of the shortcomings in investigating these cases reflect deficiencies in basic policing practice. We found inconsistent, even ineffective, identification of victims and investigations closed prematurely. As a result, victims were being left unprotected, leaving perpetrators free to continue to exploit people as commodities.

“We did see some good work in the course of our inspection, notably in forces such as Greater Manchester Police, West Yorkshire and Cumbria, which demonstrates the results that commitment and dedication in dealing with this kind of crime can achieve. We also found committed individuals and teams working hard to raise the profile of this type of offence, and to protect victims who are often extremely vulnerable in multiple ways. These officers and staff should be commended.

“Since our inspection at the start of this year, forces have already begun to act to improve their service to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. When we return to re-inspect, we will report on policing’s progress against this benchmark inspection. I hope to see real and consistent improvement.”

Shortcomings by police forces in addressing modern slavery also included:

  • variable commitment amongst police leaders to tackling this area of offending;
  • attitudes remained that modern slavery and human trafficking offences were rare and not an issue in their areas;
  • victims were not always recognised as such and therefore remained in the hands of those exploiting them or were arrested as offenders or illegal immigrants;
  • poor and inconsistent co-ordination and sharing of information and intelligence between the NCA and police forces;
  • information and intelligence flows between national, regional and local levels were sometimes poor; and
  • low awareness and use of provisions and powers set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The report highlighted that modern slavery and human trafficking take many forms, but all of them involve coercion and result in the erosion of individual choice and freedom. Victims may be forced into work, sex, domestic servitude or other forms of exploitation, suffering inhumane and degrading treatment for long periods of time. They are often subjected to threats or violence, which may also extend to those close to them.

The review of cases raised serious concerns about the quality of investigations. HMICFRS found substantial problems with the way investigations were managed at lower levels in many of the forces inspected, including:

  • significant delays (sometimes of seven or eight months) in initiating investigations;
  • a lack of effective supervision;
  • a lack of focus on safeguarding all potential victims; and
  • a lack of coordination across police forces, leading to delays in investigations and to difficulties in maintaining contact with victims relocated through the National Referral Mechanism.

HMICFRS found some welcome signs of progress in the way the police respond to modern slavery and human trafficking. There is renewed national focus on modern slavery and human trafficking, with rapid developments either occurring or planned to improve the experience of victims and strengthen the law enforcement response. In particular, the Police Transformation Programme aims to address many of the concerns identified in this report; while major changes to national processes have taken place, with more planned. Policing must seize these opportunities to make improvements.

However, the positive examples found were generally relatively small pockets of good practice or recent first steps. Overall, the report concludes that the police service and law enforcement generally needs to do much more before the public can be satisfied that forces are responding coherently and successfully to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Get the report

Stolen freedom: the policing response to modern slavery and human trafficking

Notes to editors

  1. This is the first inspection since the Modern Slavery Act came into effect in 2015.
  2. The Home Secretary commissioned the then HMIC to inspect the police response to modern slavery and trafficking in July 2016; inspections were undertaken at the beginning of 2017.
  3. On 19 July 2017, HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  4. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime, anti-social behaviour and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
  5. For further information, HMICFRS’ press office can be contacted from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  6. HMICFRS’ out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.


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