Calls have been made for Yorkshire-wide action to tackle human trafficking after a conference heard recent police investigations may only have uncovered the “tip of the iceberg”.
Hope for Justice, which helps victims of trafficking, wants to set up a regional network to combat the problem.
Director of operations Allan Doherty made the call as more than 100 professionals came together to discuss trafficking at a conference in Leeds yesterday.
Mr Doherty said: “Human traffickers do not stick within county borders and we are calling for an independently chaired, regional anti-trafficking network to be established for Yorkshire and Humberside.
“This would bring together a multitude of local agencies to share good practice and co-ordinate collaboration.”
Yesterday’s conference, at the John Charles Centre for Sport, came five months after an investigation into trafficking led to a series of raids on addresses across Leeds.
The three-day operation saw 60 police officers, supported by council staff, health agencies, Hope for Justice and the Salvation Army, rescue 17 suspected human trafficking victims, most of whom were from Slovakia. Eight people were arrested.
Speaking about the investigation, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson, who hosted the conference, said: “This may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
He said trafficking was a fact in West Yorkshire that “cannot be ignored” as he proposed to form a national working group of PCCs on the subject.
Mr Burns-Williamson added: “By working together, we can better support victims and target the perpetrators of this horrendous crime and practice.”