Victims of human trafficking are being treated as slaves to cultivate cannabis farms in Bradford to pay off their debts after entering the country illegally, it has been revealed.
New figures show that 659 cannabis farms have been found in the Bradford district since April 2010 with 72 uncovered since the start of this year alone.
A total of 226 were found last year, of which 139 were in the Bradford South police division and 87 in Airedale and North Bradford.
Yesterday, as reported in the Telegraph & Argus, Crimestoppers started a “scratch and sniff” campaign to get people used to the smell of cannabis so they can report it if they are suspicious about properties being used for its cultivation.
Bryan Dent, West Yorkshire Police drug co-ordinator, warned people against thinking it is ‘only cannabis’ and therefore not a big problem.
“We see organised crime linked to cannabis growing as it is seen as high- profit, low-risk criminal activity,” said Mr Dent.
“We have seen examples in the past of people having to stay in cannabis factories to work off their debt because of the way they have been brought into the country. They have been trafficked and people smuggled in.
“We have found that in the past and continue to do so. They are people with no money, no passport, no travel documentation, who are slaves in a house having to work off their several thousands of pounds of debt.
“There were issues years ago with people from the south-east Asian communities, but is common for organised crime groups of other areas now to become involved.
“These are serious criminal offences of people trafficking and smuggling people into the country, flouting international border controls.
“They are serious offences and when we come across such cases we take a robust stance and put the full weight of the law against them.
“Those committing such offences will be dealt with as serious criminals, who are exploiting vulnerable people at the end of the day.
“The circumstances in which they are kept in these premises are akin to hostages and slavery really and they will be investigated.”
Mr Dent said that cannabis cultivation was often linked to violence and firearms.
“Bradford is no better or worse than anywhere else,” he said.
“We are very comfortable that we do a lot of work with our community group in and around West Yorkshire, including Bradford, and it is the NPT strategy of getting to know the community, giving them the trust to tell us things.”
Anyone with information can call the non-emergency line on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.