Record numbers of potential victims of modern slavery were referred to police in Manchester in 2023

  • Report by Anna Youssef

New figures show a record number of potential slavery victims were referred to Greater Manchester Police last year.

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre said the statistics show the "harsh reality" of modern slavery with thousands of people trapped and exploited in harsh conditions.

People like “Philip” who now lives in a North West safe house  run by the Salvation Army for survivors of modern slavery.  Young, homeless and a drug addict- he felt he had nothing to lose when he was offered work and a place to stay by a friend of a friend.  The violence and threats to his life began almost immediately.

Philip said: "I was stabbed several times with sharp objects. I was attacked with a taser on multiple occasions. I had a bottle smashed over my head. I was physically, mentally and nearly sexually assaulted every day.  I was like something out of a horror movie when I managed to get out, the police were absolutely shocked."

Philip was told he would be selling drugs for a notorious organised crime gang and that from now on he would be their "property". He said: "Once these guys had me in there - they could do what they wanted . No one could see anything or hear anything. They knew I had no connections. I had no one to ask for help. No one would miss me if I disappeared.”

As the violence accelerated, Philip says he knew his only chance of staying alive was to go the police.

Philip was brutally attacked by the gang who stole his passport and bank details

Philip said: “I’ve done what I’ve done to get away and live- otherwise I would have died. I would have just been another body in the ground to them.”

Home Office figures show 709 potential victims of modern slavery – which includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour – were referred to Greater Manchester Police in 2023.

It was up from 653 referrals the year before and the highest since comparable records began in 2018. Across the UK, some 17,004 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the Home Office in 2023, up slightly from 16,921 in 2022. It is the highest annual number since the National Referral Mechanism began in 2009.

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Emmanuel was trafficked into the UK from Columbia. His former partner had promised him a better life here. Instead he was forced to work long hours for no pay doing manual labour and told he could not leave until he’d paid his trafficker back the money he owed.

 Emmanuel said: “I had to work all day in this house- cleaning, doing the repairs, painting the walls and when I finished with that house he hired me out to do the same things for other people. But they paid him and I didn't see any of the money.”

Emmanuel fled with just the clothes he was wearing when he was told he’d have to start transporting drugs around the country. He said: “If I see someone on the street who looks like the guy who brought me here- I start to panic. That's why I don't look anyone in the eye anymore. I try to stay away from  people because I don't trust anyone anymore.”

But a Cheshire based charity Just-Ice believes with specialist help it is  possible to regain that trust. They support survivors of modern slavery through a job training scheme at an ice cream parlour in Poynton.

Deborah Myers teaches baking at Just-Ice Poynton Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Volunteer Deborah Myers teaching baking. She said: “We’ve found (survivors) are quite wary to start with, quite withdrawn and it can take a couple of years really for them to be able to trust people and build up their confidence. Our longest survivor has been with us for two years.  It’s a gentle process. A lot of listening to them as well and just being sensitive.  They know it’s a safe space here and baking is a joyful thing to do so that’s how it works really." 

Jo Rodman, the chair of trustees at Just-Ice Poynton said: “We have had people here who have been physically abused and people who were controlled in a coercive, emotional control type of way such as threats to their family members for example. We have had people who have experienced torture or held in the sex industry and  as you can imagine they come to us totally traumatised and so we try to then provide trauma informed sympathetic employment to give them a halfway house into the workplace later."

Helping those who have suffered unimaginable cruelty rebuild their lives

Fo more information about modern slavery and the help and support available to victims visit Medaille Trust.

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