Helpline finds 300 potential slavery victims

Car washes were the most common businesses affected. Picture: John Devlin (Stock Image)
Car washes were the most common businesses affected. Picture: John Devlin (Stock Image)
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Nearly 300 potential victims of trafficking and exploitation have been identified in Scotland in just 18 months, according to a charity.

Unseen, which works to highlight the extent of so-called modern slavery, said around 60 per cent of cases involved forced labour, while about one in five related to ­sexual exploitation.

The charity released its figures, which relate to calls made to its Modern Slavery Helpline, as the Scottish Government prepares to publish its first annual progress report on human trafficking.

Under legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2015, anyone found to be involved in human trafficking faces a life sentence.

Unseen said it had received 172 calls and 34 online reports to its helpline between its launch in October 2016 and the end of March 2018. The reports related to 82 cases involving 297 potential victims of trafficking and exploitation.

The most common locations cited were car washes (15 cases) and nail bars (11 cases).

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen, said the figures showed “slavery is all around us”. He said: “It’s at the car wash, the nail bar, the takeaway and the hotel, as well as the farms that grow our food.

“It’s not a problem taking place far away that we can’t do anything about; it’s under our noses and we can arm ourselves by learning to spot the signs of slavery and report it to the helpline. Your call could mean somebody’s freedom.”

Earlier this year, Police Scotland said there had been 213 referrals relating to human trafficking in 2017, up 42 per cent on the previous year.

Recent successful prosecutions include that of Robert McPhee and his son-in-law John Miller, who were found guilty of servitude offences for holding men against their will and forcing them to work for little or no money.

One of the calls to the charity’s helpline related to a young woman whose profile was found on a website offering escorts. A visit to the flat she was working out of found her “huddled up in the corner of the room, looking frightened, thin, underfed, and unwashed” and apparently in the control of her exploiter.

The case was referred to Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit.

According to the Unseen report, Romanians made up 10 per cent of victims where nationality was known, making them the biggest group, with 30 individuals reported.

Britons made up the third biggest group, comprising 5.7 per cent of victims where nationality was known.

A total of 11 per cent of potential ­victims were children (34 individuals). Among children, Scots made up the second-largest group, accounting for 26 per cent of all child victims where nationality was known (five individuals).

Justine Currell, executive director at Unseen, said: “We saw a spike in calls when the Scottish Government ran its trafficking awareness campaign last autumn.

“Our approach shows that collaboration is vital and ­everyone has a part to play in recognising and reporting slavery.”