Experts have warned that a Government crackdown on human trafficking and modern slavery is ‘failing’ after shocking new figures revealed not even one offender a week is being convicted.
Just 42 people were found guilty of slavery or trafficking offences last year – down from 59 in 2017 and 69 in 2016.
Yet 6,993 potential victims were identified in 2018 – up 36 per cent on the previous year.
It comes just two months after the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in the refrigerated trailer of a lorry in Grays, Essex.
Modern slavery is said to affect up to 13,000 people in the UK, including workers in cannabis farms and nail bars, as well as women forced into prostitution.
Tackling the scourge has been a key Government priority since Theresa May described it as one of the ‘great human rights issues of our time’ and introduced new laws in 2015 to boost prosecution rates.
However, experts say that while soaring numbers of possible victims are being identified, too few cases are resulting in traffickers being jailed.
There are currently more than 1,400 police operations into trafficking or slavery but cases are taking three years to complete – up from 18 months in 2015.
The Mail on Sunday has also learnt that just five per cent of police cases are being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Bernie Gravett, a former police superintendent and an international expert in human trafficking, said the Government’s crackdown on modern slavery was ‘failing’ and described the prosecution and conviction figures as ‘ridiculous’.
‘Modern slavery generates significant harm for people in the UK and great risk to those victims moved around the world in atrocious conditions,’ he added.
‘Trafficking is a human tragedy. The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act recognised this but forces need to be given the resources and the funding to tackle the crime.’
Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, last night revealed she has written to the 43 police chief constables in England and Wales to voice her concern over prosecution and conviction rates and to ‘seek assurances that modern slavery and human trafficking is treated as serious organised crime’.
‘In 2018, almost 7,000 victims of modern slavery were identified,’ she said. ‘Although we have seen a slow rise in prosecution and conviction rates, reflecting a growing understanding among police and the criminal justice system, this does not match the scale of the issue.
‘I am concerned the number of offenders referred to the CPS for charging advice is beginning to fall and that this will lead to fewer prosecutions.’
The Home Office said: ‘This is a complex crime and we continue to work with the police, CPS, businesses and others.’ A CPS spokesman said: ‘Of the cases referred to us in 2018/19, the CPS prosecuted 77 per cent. We also prosecute defendants for other offences when the evidence makes this appropriate.’
Written by: Mark Hookham