Nicola brought the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to Abingdon Police Station following recent arrests in relation to human exploitation, slavery and fraud offences. Over 100 people have been identified as potential victims, many of them extremely vulnerable, and many of the signals of this kind of abuse are not dissimilar to those of child sexual exploitation, which Nicola has worked on extensively.
They sat down to have a private briefing with frontline police officers on Operation Rague, the ongoing investigation into these shocking crimes, where they heard about how Thames Valley police have been working to track perpetrators and protect more and more victims. The Operation began 18 months ago, and the police have now managed to make crucial arrests. Having learnt lessons from Operation Bullfinch, the child grooming gang which had been operating in Oxford, Thames Valley Police are working to spot the signs of exploitation earlier and intervene in order to both deter offenders and encourage victims to come forward.
The officers explained their multi-agency approach, with key agencies on board such as the National Crime Agency’s UK Human Trafficking Centre, the Vale of White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire County Council, HM Revenue and Customs, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. Thames Valley Police assured Nicola and the Home Secretary they will be supporting victims of these offences with assistance from these partners in order to ensure they are appropriately safeguarded.
They also heard about how the new protections brought forward in the Modern Slavery Act, which will introduce slavery and trafficking prevention orders, will work in practice to restrict the activity of individuals who pose a risk. It is hoped that the prevention orders and risk orders being brought in under the Modern Slavery Act will work in a similar way to the civil prevention orders which Nicola championed through the previous Parliament.
Nicola will be following this case closely as it progresses to the courts, and looks forward to more details in due course. The Home Secretary was also keen to ensure effective communication with local police forces so that the Home Office can address the challenges faced by frontline officers in cases of this nature.
Theresa May said, ‘It’s an excellent operation, what this has done is highlight the fact there’s this terrible crime taking place in this country With relentless police work, Thames Valley Police has been able to identify over 100 potential victims and charge a number of people.’
Nicola says, ‘The last act to receive royal assent before Parliament dissolved was the Modern Slavery Act and this shocking case demonstrates only too starkly why the measures in it are so essential. Local officers, working with other agencies, should be proud of that after a long investigation very vulnerable victims are now being safeguarded and criminals are being prosecuted and it is right that the officers involved in this case should get the chance to explain its complexities directly to the Home Secretary.
The one message that must ring out from this awful case is that slavery and exploitation will not be tolerated in our community: perpetrators will be prosecuted and victims can have the confidence to come forward, because they will be believed and protected.’