Police to launch intelligence unit to target human trafficking
Thursday June 22, 2006
A police intelligence unit dealing with all forms of human trafficking – from the sex trade to child and migrant labour – is to be set up in the autumn, the government announced yesterday.
The unit, based within the south Yorkshire force at Sheffield, follows a four-month pilot operation to tackle the forced trade in women and girls for prostitution.
Operation Pentameter, an initiative of the Association of Chief Police Officers, rescued 84 women, including a girl of 14. In raids around the UK and Ireland, 232 people were arrested and 134 charged.
In all, 12 children aged 14 to 17 were rescued from pimps during the operation. Half of the women were from EU countries and some have volunteered to return home without making a complaint, said a spokeswoman for South Yorkshire police. The rest were being looked after by specialist agencies.
The unit was announced at Pentameter's final conference by the Home Office minister Vernon Coaker. He said: “This is an abhorrent crime that wrecks innocent lives. We still have a lot of work to do and we must not take our foot off the pedal.”
Mr Coaker also published a summary of more than 200 responses to the government's draft action plan on human trafficking. A significant number complained that the plan discussed trafficking only in terms of organised crime rather than as a human rights issue, with protection and assistance given to the victims.
They also urged the government to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking which allows victims a formal “period of reflection” and the possibility of a temporary residence permit.
Home Office officials are keen that victims have time to consider helping with prosecutions. But they are also concerned that signing up to the convention might provide a “pull factor” for immigration.
Yesterday's conference was told of an emerging trend for child victims from Africa and South America.
South Yorkshire's deputy chief constable, Grahame Maxwell, who led Pentameter, said officers, who have so far targeted known brothels, saunas and massage parlours, would be turning their attention to clandestine brothels in neighbourhoods. He said: “This is happening in suburbia.”
Mr Maxwell revealed that the huge number of women trafficked into Britain was causing a fall in prices paid for prostitutes. Previously, sexual intercourse with a prostitute was priced at up to 60. But in the past one to two years that has fallen to as low as 40.
Police had also underestimated prices being paid for trafficked women by pimps. In one case, a Lithuanian girl was sold for 8,000 on arrival in the UK because she was a virgin.
The conference was told that the 14-year-old girl rescued by the operation was an African child who was thought to have been discarded because she was pregnant.