WEST Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has welcomed the prospect of tougher sentences for the perpetrators of human trafficking offences.
Mark Burns-Williamson, who held a meeting of his National Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery Network for all PCCs this week, warned that those behind the “vile” crime could face the possibility of life sentences.
The harsher treatment of slavery offences was illustrated at the Appeal Court in London on Wednesday when David Zielinski, who trafficked “desperate” victims from Poland to Bradford, had his jail term increased from four to seven years.
Zielinski, 24, of Enfield, North London, was part of a ruthless gang that put its victims to work in jobs in Bradford but kept most of their wages.
One was “severely beaten” when he became ill and lost his job, and another described living conditions as like a “labour camp from World War Two.”
Mr Burns-Williamson said: “Thanks to work with the International Bar Association and the Judicial College, more than 1,200 judges have now received training on the Modern Slavery Act. This is reassuring and sends out an even stronger message that those committing this vile crime will be dealt with severely by the courts as there were concerns over whether sentences were in full effect of legislation.
“This week saw convicted trafficker David Zielinski have his sentence nearly doubled from four years to seven years. I very much welcome the increase and the clear message this sends to people looking to exploit human beings for their own gain.”
Mr Burns-Williamson said that while National Crime Agency data had shown a 17 per cent increase nationally in human trafficking referrals, including 207 potential victims in West Yorkshire in 2016, it “didn’t mean the issue was getting worse.”
He said: “More people being identified means more awareness. It means people recognise what modern slavery is and are contacting the relevant authorities to help and support them.
“The trafficking of people and modern slavery are terrible abuses of human rights, shamefully robbing people of their dignity, causing misery to the lives of the victims’ families and communities it affects. We are doing some pioneering work here in West Yorkshire and through the national PCC network, and I hope the learning gained can be adopted elsewhere to help put an end to this truly vile crime.”