Vulnerable people being forced to work in Cheshire are the focus of a special police operation today (Tuesday 18th October).
Officers from Cheshire Constabulary have joined forces with colleagues from a number of agencies including the local authority, health, housing and Immigration to identify workers who are potentially being exploited.
Operational activity throughout the day includes visits to business premises - in particular nail bars - where intelligence suggests there is a potential risk of individuals employed at these premises being exploited.
Detective Chief Inspector Gwyn Dodd said: "Modern day slavery is a challenging issue for police and partners to deal with as it is very much a hidden crime – and the true extent of the problem is not known. Operations such as this are helping us to build up a bigger picture of what is happening in Cheshire and understand better the true extent of the issue.
"Intelligence suggests nationally that people are being forced to work for very little reward and in poor conditions at business premises and we rely on information from the public to help us build up a bigger picture of what is happening and where on a local level here in Cheshire.
"Nail bars are an area of business that have been identified as a potential risk of individuals being employed at these premises being exploited. The majority of these premises are well run and operate with no issues – but there are a small number where intelligence suggests there could be problems.
"Today, police and partners are working together to carry out a number of checks at premises, to gather vital intelligence about this type of crime and to identify any potential victims and ensure they are kept safe."
The operation coincides with a regional week of action by forces across the North West – one of the biggest it has ever seen.
Operational activity is being carried out across the region and events are being held to educate the public about modern day slavery – and to ensure people know the signs and behaviours to look out for in potential victims.
It follows on from a national week of action in June, which aimed to raise awareness of the issue.
In Cheshire, operational activity focused on hand car washes and identified two potential victims.
Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner David Keane said: "Policing nationally is only starting to get a true understanding of the nature and scale of modern day slavery. People are being tricked into coming to the UK by organised crime groups with a promise of a good job and a better life.
"It’s difficult for them to ask for help because they are completely controlled by their abusers. If we all keep our eyes and ears open and tell police of our suspicions, we can help victims and their families escape from the terrible conditions they could be trapped in.
"Forced labour is happening across the country and this day of action is about understanding it’s closer than we think. It’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for potential victims, and as residents we need to be aware of the signs that could mean modern slavery is happening in our community. More information about how to spot the signs of modern day slavery can be found on the Constabulary website and any suspicions should be reported to police."
Modern day slavery takes many forms but the most common include sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude.
One of the biggest challenges for police and partners is the fact that many victims do not realise they are victims.
DCI Dodd said: "It is really important that we all recognise the signs and behaviours associated with this type of crime, to look out for potential victims and to report any concerns you may have – no matter how small. That information could be the vital piece of the jigsaw for us.
"It is also important that anyone who is a victim - or is at risk of becoming a future victim - is identified and offered the necessary support and safeguarding. There is no place in Cheshire for this type of activity and we are determined to make sure people can live and work in Cheshire safely."
Anyone who has any information about this type of crime or is concerned about someone being a potential victim is urged to call Cheshire Police on 101.
If you do not feel comfortable contacting police directly then information can be passed on anonymously, via Crimestoppers, on 0800 555 111.
Forced labour is happening across the country and this week of action is about understanding it’s closer than we think.