FEATURE: Finding out how police are tackling modern slavery

With three crimes a week related to modern slavery committed across the Thames Valley, reporter Stephen Delahunty joined police on a raid in Windsor as they demonstrated a more victim-led approach to tackling the issue

Stephen Delahunty

Stephen Delahunty

It took two large knocks from ‘the destroyer’ before the door frame cracked and the door swung open.

Thames Valley Police (TVP) officers immediately burst into the first floor property.

Cries of ‘police, police’ rang out in the hallway as officers quickly searched from room to room, followed shortly after by several shouts of ‘clear’.

The male occupant wasn’t home and a quick search of the flat found only drug paraphernalia – although the smell of cannabis was noticeable from outside.

Nearly a dozen officers and agency partners had made the short drive from Windsor Police Station to the residential property in the town centre at about 2pm on Monday.

Just a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle, the warrant was the fifth executed in the same building over the course of the past year.

In each case it was suspected that the resident had fallen victim to cuckooing – a form of modern slavery.

It occurs when criminal gangs target vulnerable individuals and then force them into situations of indebtedness and exploitation that can lead to crimes like the storing, dealing and transporting of drugs.

Inspector Jason Kew explained that while the drugs warrant was needed to give officers the power of entry, it was really about safeguarding the resident and ‘enforcing help’.

PC Nathan Mitchell led the raid.

“It’s no longer just about kicking down doors and nicking people,” he said.

Police will obtain a temporary closure order on the property which means that in future they can arrest anyone else who is on the property other than the resident.

Had the man been at home, representatives from agency partners would have followed the police in to offer advice and support.

Brenda Amos is an engagement and recovery worker for Resilience, the drug and alcohol service.

She said: “My role is to just offer support to the victim and see if they want to engage with our services.”

Three crimes a week related to modern slavery are committed across the Thames Valley.

RAHAB is an organisation that works with those victims.

Naomi Runciman, a senior project crisis and support worker at RAHAB, said: “Usually we will go in and see if they understand the situation they are in and explain how we can help.”

Cuckooing forms part of TVP’s Hidden Harm campaign which aims to highlight the undetected and unreported abuse of individuals.

After the raid, officers and Royal Borough community wardens leafleted the entire block to inform residents what was going on, and why and how residents can spot signs of modern slavery.

Insp Kew added: “We need to build community resilience through education because that will help solve this particular crime – making people aware of what that hidden harm looks like.”

Although it marks a more victim-led approach to policing, Insp Kew was keen to stress that the police will still look to prosecute individuals where crime is taking place – but that an assessment is made on a case-by-case basis about whether it is in the best interests of each vulnerable individual.

“It’s a holistic approach to a big problem, that’s why we use temporary closure orders,” he said.

“It’s through using this approach we’ve been able to disrupt and disperse the crime gangs that are controlling these individuals. It exposes them to us, where we can then employ more conventional police methods.”

Click here to find out more about TVP’s Hidden Harm campaign.

My story: Young wife forced into prostitution by lover

RAHAB (Restoring All Hope and Believe) provides outreach support to victims of modern slavery across Berkshire.

Ajkuna (not her real name), 21, lives in Maidenhead and is from a small village in the southern region of Albania.

She was forced into an arranged marriage by her parents at a young age, however she began seeing a man in secret she had met on a night out for her 19th birthday.

In October last year he persuaded her to run away to Greece where he said they would start a new life together.

After a few days in Greece she was taken to a building where she was told she had to earn the money to pay for their new life together – as a prostitute.

Ajkuna said she was beaten unconscious several times and was told her family would be killed if she did not co-operate. Several months later she was transported to the UK in the back of a lorry.

Akjuna got out at Dover and ran until she got to a service station and called her brother in Albania who arranged for a friend in the UK to pick her up.

She reported what happened to her to the authorities and eventually she was placed in the support of RAHAB in May this year.

She said: “I hope to settle down, and eventually learn to trust again.

“It will be a long process, but it will be worth it.”


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