Charities say that children are routinely duped by slave gangs
Charities say that children are routinely duped by slave gangsGETTY IMAGES
Children lured to Britain on the promise of trials at Premier League football clubs are among thousands of slaves whose captors are evading justice.
Only 6 per cent of crimes recorded by police forces under the Modern Slavery Act have led to charges since the legislation was introduced in 2015, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show. Of the 5,145 suspected slaves referred to the national safeguarding programme last year, 2,118 or (41 per cent) were under 18. Exploitation of children and teenagers increased 66 per cent on the previous year, with total referrals up from 3,804.
Police forces were accused yesterday of failing to adequately investigate modern slavery. In some of the worst examples, West Midlands police recorded 295 offences in two years but only four charges, while Thames Valley police recorded 118 offences and only two charges. The investigation by The Times has found:
• Premier League football clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur, have called in the authorities after children arrived at their stadiums believing that they had been selected for trials, amid concerns about how they had arrived in Britain.
• Charities say that children are routinely duped by slave gangs who promise holidays or modelling contracts in Britain, with many then being used as child prostitutes in London brothels before sleeping rough.
• Child protection organisations have criticised police for a reluctance to pursue cross-border investigations, with some officers suggesting that children simply return to their captors.
The findings are embarrassing for Theresa May, who made tackling slavery in Britain a priority first as home secretary and then as prime minister. The Modern Slavery Act created a new post of anti-slavery commissioner and provided for seizing traffickers’ assets to compensate victims.

How many slaves do you think there are in Britain today?

However, the Times investigation shows that police forces are failing to build cases that lead to charges. There have been cases reported across the country, from the Highlands to Devon, taking in places including Newcastle,

Bolton and London.

The 6 per cent success rate for slavery compares poorly with that of weapons offences, which was 44 per cent to the year ending last June. The number for sexual offences, which are notorious for their low charging rates, was 6.5 per cent for the same period.
Forces say that they have been overwhelmed by the number of foreign organised crime groups targeting the UK. Their investigations are hampered by victims’ reluctance to become witnesses and difficulties in working with certain nations, they said.
West Midlands police said that the low rate of charges was down to problems involving victim testimony. “People are either so coerced that they don’t identify as victims or are so frightened they won’t support a prosecution,” a spokesman said.
However, one charity worker said that often police did not recognise trafficking. Debbie Beadle, of the children’s rights organisation Ecpat UK, said that a 13-year-old girl who had been trafficked from west Africa and sexually exploited in England was told that she should return to the woman who had brought her.
“Things are getting better,” she said, “but police are still saying there is not enough evidence to prosecute or there is not enough money to investigate especially if they have to go abroad.”
In some of the most brazen examples of tricking children into sex slavery or forced labour such as on cannabis farms or in domestic servitude, “agents” take advantage of impoverished boys’ footballing ambitions and the power of Premier League brands.
They approach families, mainly in Africa, claiming to have links to teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United and charge thousands of pounds for the chance to play with them. They then deliver the children to gangs in the UK.
Kevin Hyland, the UK anti-slavery commissioner, said: “I’ve met children who were brought from Nigeria, for example, expecting to play for some of the best football teams in the country. But they were just lured on that promise and then when they arrived were exploited in many ways, whether that be sexual exploitation or forced labour.”
Alinka Gearon, a specialist in child trafficking at the University of Bath, said she had found numerous examples of children, mainly girls, being tricked into sex slavery on the promise of contracts as models working in London and Europe’s other fashion capitals.
The most common nationalities referred to the safeguarding programme, the national referral mechanism, were Albanian, British and Vietnamese.
The police have had had some successes. In January Thu Huong Nguyen, 48, and Viet Hoang Nguyen, 29, were jailed for five and four years respectively after being found guilty of modern slavery offences after forcing children trafficked from Vietnam to work in British nail bars. In September nine members of a Traveller family who kept workers in squalid conditions were jailed. Martin Rooney Sr, the head, was jailed for ten years. Two sons were jailed for more than 15 years each.