Drug users in west are helping slavery rackets to ruin lives

Almost 50,000 residents of Dorset and Somerset are unwittingly supporting cruel slavery rackets across the two counties, crime fighters have revealed.

Following a key conference on human trafficking in Poole this week, West Country police chiefs have exposed that modern slavery “is happening close to home” and that the estimated 46,000 people in Dorset and Somerset who smoke cannabis are helping slavery to thrive.

Police say cannabis factories in Dorset and Somerset are largely ‘staffed’ by slave labour, predominantly South East Asians, including teenagers, who are trafficked to the region and are forced to live in squalor by drug ganglords who imprison them as “gardeners” to water the psychoactive plants. By buying cannabis even for “recreational use”, West Country drug users are propping up the flourishing slavery business which was condemned this week as the new modern crimewave.

At the crime fighters’ conference organised by the Safer Poole Partnership to raise awareness of slavery and human trafficking, Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for North West England, told delegates: “Modern slavery and the exploitation of our fellow humans is the crime of our times.”

He added: “Under our noses, in plain sight, victims suffer the indignities of being treated as a ‘thing’ and abused with no hope of release.”

As Dorset police launched a new ‘shop-a-slaver’ drive, the county’s police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill added: “Dorset isn’t exempt; modern slavery is happening close to home. Knowing the signs are crucial if we are to safeguard vulnerable people and I encourage everyone to report any concerns to the modern slavery helpline.”

Police officers have also appealed to cannabis users to think of the consequences of their habit. Crime survey figures compiled by regional drug strategy groups and the Office for National Statistics estimate that almost seven per cent of adults aged 16-59 in Dorset and Somerset occasionally use cannabis. Across the two counties, that totals around 46,000 people.

impact of drugs and their link to modern slavery

Bath neighbourhood police beat manager Adge Secker has long campaigned for awareness of the real impact of drugs and their link to modern slavery.

In a blog post he explained: “There are inevitably a few misguided souls who think it’s merely a minor matter. Like the chap who told me ‘it’s only a bit of cannabis growing’. The real story is all too often lost and not even considered. It’s a great deal more than just ‘a bit of cannabis growing’ – there is a real human and dangerous element to this crime.

“It’s human trafficking. It’s modern slavery. It’s intimidation. It’s organised crime. It’s a huge risk to the community.”

He added: “Consider the growers. Quite often they are someone from the Far East, more specifically from Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand. There is, unfortunately, a well-trodden path to this country from generally young men looking for a ‘better life’ – but who end up as victims.

“They pay thousands of pounds to traffickers who promise them the Earth, but deliver hell. They’re promised a job and accommodation and that they’ll be able to earn enough money to send some back home to support their family. They’re often given false travel documents and smuggled into this country.

“This is happening now. When these people arrive here they are confronted by threats and violence. They are told to run these ‘grow houses’. Failure to do so often results serious violence and threats against their families back home. They are paid a pittance and live in dangerous conditions. This is the reality of human trafficking and modern slavery. There is a human side to this.”

Police have now launched a Modern Slavery Hotline where the public can anonymously report any suspicions, on 0800 0121 700 or at modernslaveryhelpline.org

A police spokesman said: “Members of the public should think, spot the signs and speak out against the abuse and exploitation of anyone in our community.

“There is no typical victim of slavery – victims can be men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities and cut across the population. But it is normally more prevalent amongst the most vulnerable, and within minority or socially excluded groups.”

Signs of trafficking and modern slavery:

  • Physical appearance: Victims may show signs of physical or psy- chological abuse, look malnour- ished or unkempt, or appear withdrawn.
  • Isolation: Victims may rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control/influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
  • Poor living conditions: Victims may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address.
  • Few or no personal effects: Victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.
  • Restricted freedom of movement: Victims have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retained, e.g. passports.
  • Unusual travel times: They may be dropped off/collected for work on a regular basis, either very early or late at night.
  • Reluctant to seek help: Victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, for fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.

In his closing address to the modern slavery conference, Police Commissioner Underhill warned: “This vile trade will not be tolerated.

“Modern slavery is an appalling stain on our society. It’s a brutal form of organised crime, in which people are treated as commodities and exploited.

“Modern slavery continues to plague us nationally. It’s taking place close to home and Dorset isn’t exempt. Great strides have been made in our approach to dealing with this crime, but there is still a long way to go.”

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.