Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, NPCC lead on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking - February 2020

We are nearing the close of our 2017-20 transformation programme, where we see how the landscape of modern slavery and human trafficking crime continues to evolve. A new and primarily young British cohort of victims are targeted for exploitation, most frequently, in drugs distribution. Control methods used include the promise of branded clothes, trainers, drugs, drink, status, love and ready cash. The reality is that victims quickly find they become dependent on, and are intimidated by, those who coerce or compel them to commit criminal offences on their behalf.

The number of police investigations connected to human trafficking and forced or compulsory labour has continued to grow. In February 2020, there were at least 1810 live operations; a 20% increase on a year earlier, and an almost 10 fold increase on the number of investigations reported when this programme began. At that time our knowledge of modern slavery was primarily connected to the exploitation of foreign nationals who had come to the UK to find a better life.

Analysing the data today we find that the largest area of growth in modern slavery investigations is in the exploitation of children and young people, which now accounts for just over a quarter of live operations. These victims are often made vulnerable and exploited when they are consciously or subliminally excluded from family relationships, education, social care or wider community inclusion. They form a part of a readily available pool of vulnerable people ready to be exploited by organised crime gangs. The business model of modern slavery involving young people, epitomised in so-called County Lines, is that it is based upon the victim being a perpetrator in crime. The result is an epidemic of child criminal exploitation but also criminality.

Perversely, Section 45 of Modern Slavery Act (2015) may have itself worked to increase the risk of child criminal exploitation due to the potential immunity from prosecution it offers to victims. This is a complex area but I am pleased that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and HMICFRS have called for a review of the use of Section 45. Additionally, the Sentencing Council is considering whether there should be tougher sentences for criminals who exploit minors in this manner.

Meanwhile the number of investigations involving foreign nationals or vulnerable British adults has also continued to grow, albeit at a reduced rate. Indications are that the nationality profile of MHST victims may also be changing as we see a drop in the proportion of investigations involving potential victims from EU countries. However, the close links between organised immigration crime and slavery have become ever clearer in the light of the tragedy in Essex.

The Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit has continued to support intelligence sharing regionally, nationally and across portfolios. Our team’s core role of identifying and promoting best practice in our response to victims and in the subsequent investigation of offences has also continued. Policing is now far better equipped to understand how to tackle this form of crime and much has already been achieved. Working with the College of Policing, we continue to focus on putting that knowledge into consistent investigative practice in every police force.

Over recent months we have worked closely with the Home Office, National Crime Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, ROCUs and GLAA on a collaborative effort to co-ordinate initiatives designed to help increase the proportion of investigations resulting in prosecutions and convictions. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has written to chief constables to seek assurances that modern slavery cases are considered as serious and organised crime, and that the appropriate resources are being allocated to investigations.

Building on our knowledge and insight, and combined with analysis completed by the former Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Implementation Unit, the MSPTU team is currently finalising a report on the structures, supervision and governance approaches common to those forces found to be most effective in their response to modern slavery. Additionally, a national approach within the Prosecutions Oversight Group is looking to establish best practice to progress investigations into charges and court hearings.

There is so much more that the unit has achieved. Now it is for all of us to remind ourselves of our own work in enabling colleagues within policing, wider law enforcement, partner agencies and NGO’s to safeguard victims, prevent others falling into slavery and to bring offenders to justice.

Latest activity snapshot up to February 2020

Continuing increase in police-led investigations:

In February 2020 there were at least 1810 live modern slavery policing operations in the UK – a 20% increase in the number of operations reported a year earlier. This is almost ten times the number of cases police were investigating in December 2016 (when recording of the number of live investigations began). Current cases were estimated to involve at least 2600 victims and over 1800 suspects. Criminal exploitation was the biggest exploitation type under investigation, closely followed by sexual exploitation.

More victims protected:

The number of potential victims protected as a result of police activity continues to increase. Overall, the number of NRM and DTN referrals received by police and other competent authorities continues to grow with greater public awareness and activity from partner agencies. (NRM and DTN referrals made by police and other "first responder" organisations indicate potential victims of modern slavery offences).

Specialist training delivered:

Since 2017, more than 6,400 specialist modern slavery training days have been delivered by the programme to more than 4000 police officers and staff. All forces in England and Wales have participated. The delivery of specialist training activity continues.

Forces are also able to increasingly deliver the own activity with a network of more than 150 trainers having been equipped to support the delivery of general awareness training locally.

Over 1500 investigators have equipped with specialist investigation skills:

This includes approaching 1,000 specialist investigators who have received specific training in a a four day course on how to run complex modern slavery investigations. A further 490 lead investigators and other practitioners have also received training on covert tactics, victim management and ABE in modern slavery cases.

575 investigators have been trained in ABE interviewing skills for modern slavery cases

A series of CPD events provided additional input for officers in the use of ABE interview techniques in modern slavery cases, specifically in understanding the needs and vulnerabilities of MSHT victims.

More than 800 intel analysts and research staff received specialist CPD

Analyst and research staff working for police and other law enforcement agencies nationwide have received specialist training, via a national conference and at 26 one-day CPD events, on the research techniques needed to support the prevention, intelligence and investigation work needed to tackle modern slavery.

Training materials accredited:

Awareness and specialist investigation training materials have been accredited by the College of Police and are now available across UK law enforcement. Forces are now increasingly leading in the local delivery of modern slavery training.

Supporting effective prosecution:

Police forces increasingly seek earlier engagement and closer collaboration with the Crown Prosecution Service in the planning and development of complex modern slavery investigations. Additionally, more than three quarters of police forces in England and Wales have participated in case file reviews to gather and share best practice in the detection and preparation of effective prosecutions under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This programme of review and continuing improvement is available to all forces.

A national prosecutions action plan has also been developed which supports and tracks actions co-ordinated through a multi-agency prosecutions oversight group.

Partner & practitioner networks engaged

A series of major partnership and practitioner events have been held attended by more than 1700 representatives of police, UK and overseas law enforcement, OPPCs, government agencies, crime registrars, local authorities, NGOs, community action groups and other partners – all focussing on working together to defeat modern slavery.


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About Us

This is the website of the NPCC Modern Slavery and Organised Immigration Crime (MSOIC) Unit.  We work to support police officers, police staff and law enforcement partners to lead the fight against modern slavery,  human trafficking and OIC. 

Our aim is to help to deliver a consistent response to protecting victims and targeting offenders - and to work with partners to ultimately help prevent exploitation from having a place in our society.

Contact Us

You can contact the NPCC Modern Slavery and Organised Immigration Crime Unit by email at Modern Slavery

Alternatively colleagues in UK law enforcement can join the Policing Slavery and Human Trafficking Group on Knowledge Hub.