POLICE failings are allowing modern slave traders and human traffickers to continue offending unchecked, a report warns today.
Tens of thousands of people are said to be affected by the illegal trade in immigrants and others against their will, including their sale into domestic servitude and the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation.
Two Yorkshire police forces are among six nationwide responsible for referring more than half of such cases to a national register.
But the government’s watchdog, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, found that victims were being let down “at every stage”, with investigations shelved too soon and clear signs of crimes missed.
As a result of shortcomings by some officers, including a failure to understand the nature of such offences, trafficking victims were often mistaken for offenders and others allowed to remain in the hands of their captors, the report warns.
It also criticises “variable commitment” among police leaders to tackling trafficking and slavery, though it praises the approach in West Yorkshire.
The county’s police force, along with those in South Yorkshire, London, Manchester, Northumbria and the West Midlands, are together responsible for dealing with the majority of cases.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams, who chairs a national committee on trafficking, said: “We found inconsistent, even ineffective, identification of victims and investigations closed prematurely.
“As a result, victims were being left unprotected, leaving perpetrators free to continue to exploit people as commodities.”
Premises targeted as part of police activity have included nail bars, brothels and car washes.
In one investigation, described by the report as “poor at every stage”, officers failed to record allegations of rape against a eastern European woman forced into prostitution in her home country, then trafficked to the UK and found eventually by a member of the public heavily pregnant and in distress near a motorway service station.