The number of reports to police of potential human trafficking has soared over the past year.
Figures show there were 213 referrals to Police Scotland in 2017, up 42 per cent on the previous year.
The biggest rise was in cases of labour exploitation, with more than half of reports relating to a male victim – a rise of 64 per cent on 2016. The Scottish Government attributed the increase in reports to greater awareness of the problem following the launch of the country’s first national strategy on the issue last year. Recent successful prosecutions include that of Robert McPhee and his son-in-law John Miller, who were this month found guilty of servitude offences for holding men against their will and forcing them to work for little or no money.
James McPhee, from the same traveller family, was found guilty of assault and abduction, while Steven McPhee pleaded guilty to assault earlier in the trial.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “During development of our national strategy and since its publication last spring, human trafficking and exploitation has rarely been far from the news agenda.
“That, together with the public information campaign, has helped ensure greater public awareness of the issue and the harm it causes.
“Trafficking and exploitation can take place in any community and does not only affect people from overseas. It is essential that if we see or suspect something, then we contact the appropriate authorities.”
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “People are trafficked for a variety of purposes, including commercial sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced criminality and domestic servitude, and all for the profit or personal gain of the traffickers.
“They are often trafficked across international borders, but also within Scotland.
“It is alarming that, of the 213 referrals to Police Scotland last year, 61 of those involved children.
“The signs of persons being exploited can be seen within our communities and by raising public awareness of the signs. It is crucial that all suspicions of such activity are provided to the police.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “Scottish Labour fought hard for legislation to be introduced to combat human trafficking and for Scotland to be a leader in protecting victims of modern day slavery, and we have been supportive of the Scottish Government’s strategy launched last year.
“It is welcome news that more people feel able to report human trafficking.”