Move to help 'sex slaves' testify against gang lords
FOUR human trafficking victims who were forced to work as "sex slaves" in Edinburgh have vanished before their tormentors could be caught and prosecuted.
The women all disappeared within days of being freed from their ordeals.
The move is a blow to police efforts to bring the criminal gangs behind the trade to justice. But steps have now been taken to encourage future victims to stay in Edinburgh and give evidence against the human trafficking gangs.
The victims, usually poverty-stricken immigrants forced to work as prostitutes, are to be offered free housing and other benefits in return for helping the authorities with their investigations.
They will be offered basic living expenses of 50-a-week, legal advice, psychological counselling and health care, as well as accommodation, for up to a year.
Previously, if they were illegal immigrants, they faced the threat of immediate deportation.
There have been four confirmed cases of human trafficking in the Capital since December last year. Those cases are understood to have happened before three women, all of Asian origin, were found last month being held against their will through "fear and intimidation" at two flats in Leith. It was not clear today whether the three women were still in the Capital.
Of the four previous victims, one victim stayed in Edinburgh for a maximum of two weeks before returning to her country of origin, while the remaining three all disappeared after a couple of days.
The new protocol has been drawn up by the city council, Lothian and Borders Police and NHS Lothian.
Councillor Norman Work, vice-convener of the council's health, social care and housing committee, said: "
Human trafficking is unfortunately a growing problem in the UK. The main aim of the protocol is to share information and to safeguard the victims of this crime."
A police spokesman added: "Any protocol that assists agencies in working together will hopefully be more effective in providing a better service to victims."
Last year, Lothian and Borders Police was involved in a national initiative - Operation Pentameter - to tackle human trafficking. More than 70 potential victims in towns and cities across the UK were rescued in the three-month operation.
The true extent of the problem in Edinburgh is unknown, but police chiefs have previously stated their belief that people-smuggling gangs are active in the city.
In previous years, based on the experience of cases in London, human trafficking victims from outwith the EU would have faced immediate deportation. If police wanted assistance in any investigation, the victims would then be asked to return to the UK to give evidence.
Now, a 30-day period of reflection will be guaranteed, where the victims will be offered accommodation in the city while they decide whether to co-operate with the authorities or return home. If they choose to assist with investigations, the support could continue for up to a year. However, beyond the 30 days - or later - the Border and Immigration Agency can still rule to remove the victims from the UK.
Officers have repeatedly called on the public for help in tracking down the illegal trade by identifying clandestine brothels.
Seven hundred women are believed to work as prostitutes in the city, with around ten per cent thought to come from outside the UK - half of whom may be here illegally.
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