THE chair of a group set up between the office of Cleveland's Police and Crime Commissioner and Cleveland Police has said “we cannot ignore exploitation” as more than 150 people attended a conference to tackle the problem.

Robin Brierley, chair of Cleveland Anti-Slavery Network, said no single organisation had the resources to eradicate the exploitation of vulnerable people alone. At the Understanding Exploitation Conference, at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, key figures from businesses and organisations across the Tees Valley discussed ways to tackle modern slavery, sexual exploitation and County Lines drug dealers.

Mr Brierley said: “No single agency has the resources or expertise to eradicate the exploitation of vulnerable people alone. That’s why it’s so important that agencies work together to tackle and prevent it.

“Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger established the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Network in 2018.

“Since then I have been developing this multi-agency group and among other achievements, we have succeeded in establishing emergency protocols to ensure victims get immediate care at the point of rescue.”

The conference was organised by Teeswide Safeguarding Adults Board, the PCC’s office and Cleveland Anti-Slavery Network. Wednesday’s event gave leaders from the police, healthcare, education and social care the chance to hear about the threat of human trafficking, county lines and modern slavery. All of these forms of exploitation are taking place here in the North-East and we cannot ignore it.”

Ann Baxter, independent chair of the Teeswide Safeguarding Adults Board, said exploitation is happening on Teesside and mainly affected children and vulnerable people.

She said: “Safeguarding is everybody’s business and in hosting this conference we hope to raise awareness of issues with organisations across the region.

“We hoped that the event forged stronger multi-agency partnerships, ensure agencies work together to strengthen the response for victims, protect the most vulnerable within our communities, and target and pursue the perpetrators of these devastating crimes.”

PCC Barry Coppinger said: “Exploitation in all its guises preys on the most vulnerable people in our communities, with perpetrators seeing victims as nothing more than a tool for their own gain. As resources become increasingly stretched, it’s more important than ever that agencies work together to identify victims of exploitation and prevent further victims being sucked into its dark world.”

To report exploitation, contact police or the National Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121700.