SLAVERY is plaguing the North East – and more than 1,000 suspected victims have been found in the region in just five years, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Stark new statistics suggest the region is on track to record its highest ever number of modern slavery victims and the cost-of-living crisis means more could be in danger of falling prey to exploiters.

During the first three months of this year alone, at least one ‘modern slave’ a day was found in the North East, with 39 children among them.

The 101 people identified between January and March represent around a third of the number recorded during the entirety of 2021.

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They are among more than 1,200 people referred to the Home Office for support by police forces across the area since 2017.

The figures are stark but the impact of modern slavery on its victims is starker still, and experts are calling on the public to be vigilant and help to bring predatory exploiters to justice.

The horrifying stories behind the statistics include one of the North East’s worst examples of slavery and human trafficking – the case of the Rafael family.

Seven people – including five members of the Newcastle-based family – were convicted in 2018 after forcing eight victims to sleep in cellars as they took control of their bank accounts, applied for benefits in their names and put them to work, paying them a fraction of their earnings.

The Northern Echo: CONVICTED: Top row, from left, Roman Rafael, Ruzena Rafaelova, Marian Rafael. Bottom row, from left, Angelica Chec, Juraj Rafael, Ruzena Rafaelova

Five members of the Rafael family and two others were convicted of slavery offences in 2018

Earlier this year, despicable James McCann was jailed for modern slavery offences after making his victim live in appalling conditions and paying him a pittance for work. 

The vulnerable Hungarian man was forced to live in a tent near Blyth beach before being housed in a shed without a toilet in the garden of McCann’s partner.

Victims identified in our region between January and March include 19 people from the UK, 14 from Vietnam and seven Albanian men.

At least 12 British children and one Indian child were flagged to the Government’s National Referral Mechanism during that time, according to Echo analysis of Home Office figures.

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Most cases were linked to labour related exploitation but at least six victims – five of them children – are thought to have been sexually exploited.

Nationally, 3,777 people were referred to the NRM in the first quarter of this year – the highest number since the scheme began in 2009.

The Northern Echo: Modern slavery can be found in many industries (file photo) Picture PIXABAY

Businesses such as car washes and nail bars have been linked to modern slavery

Justine Currell, director of Unseen UK, said the rise partly reflects greater public awareness and improved efforts from authorities tackling the issue.

But she warned that the cost-of-living crisis could make more people vulnerable to exploitative predators.

Ms Currell said: “More people will be struggling to have enough money to feed their families and to heat their homes.

“Especially in areas where there are already high levels of deprivation and unemployment, that will contribute to more people becoming at risk of exploitation.”

Urging people to report signs of modern slavery, she added: “Sometimes people expect to see someone in shackles walking down the street.

“But it does not happen like that, sometimes you will just get a gut feeling.

“I’d like to see more people have the confidence to report that and let us take action from there.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said the NRM and the Modern Slavery Act meant the UK had tools to support victims and target perpetrators of the “horrific crime”.

Any concerns can be reported to police on non-emergency number 101 or 999 in an emergency.

Support is available from the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700.


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