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Police and crime panel discusses modern slavery and counter-terrorism strategy

Concerns about support for victims of modern slavery and the government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent were raised at Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel on Friday.

The panel is made up elected members from across Oxon, Berks and Bucks counties and includes independent members and representatives from the police.

New anti-slavery coordinator for Thames Valley Police April McCoig spoke about some of the challenges in raising awareness around modern slavery and victim support.

April said that part of her role will be to make sure there is a consistent approach between local authorities, emergency services and other first responders.

Figures released by the National Crime Agency show there have been 112 referrals by the police into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) since the start of 2013 up until June this year.

The NRM is the mechanism through which potential victims of human trafficking are identified and enables access to appropriate protection and support.

April said: “Exploitation around sex and drug offences are common.

“People are being used by organised crime groups to run drugs across counties.”

She also warned of people in forced labour and the practice of cuckooing, where vulnerable peoples homes are taken over by criminals and are used to commit crime.

“Local authorities need to understand more about their role as first responders”, she added.

Oxford City Councillor Tom Hayes (Lab, St. Clement's) was concerned the current referral system was failing victims.

He said: “It’s a shame we've created a system with no compassion and often throws people out with no benefits.”

Under the current NRM system victims are eligible for 45 days while their case is being investigated.

After that victims can often face difficulties in accessing adult social care services and housing which can be dependant on nationality and employment status.

Next month the police plan to launch a new initiative called Hidden Harm that will highlight crimes that often occur away from public view.

Several councillors also raised concerns about the performance of the non-emergency telephone number 101.

Including Bucks County Councillor Bill Bendyshe-Brown (Cons, The Risboroughs) who spoke of his frustration after being on hold for nearly 20 minutes.

Chief constable Francis Habgood admitted performance had been poor over the summer months but its performance was picking up again.

Slough councillor Arvind Dhaliwal (Lab, Elliman) wanted to know if the panel thought the police were meeting their legal duties under Prevent.

Part of Prevent’s strategy is to safeguard children and adults and provide early intervention to protect and divert people away from being drawn into terrorist activity.

Deputy police and crime commissioner Matthew Barber said: “Broadly speaking I would say we are meeting our duties.”

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