THERE were almost 150 recorded cases of human trafficking and modern slavery in Bradford over a 12 month period - but the true scale of the issue is likely to be much higher.

Between April 2019 and March 2020 police in Bradford recorded 147 incidents involving people being exploited either through trafficking or being treated as a slave.

The issue will be discussed by Bradford Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday, where members will be told that the crimes are emerging as a “new threat” to the safeguarding of vulnerable people.

Modern slavery can take numerous forms, including people being forced to work for little or no pay in exchange for accommodation.

And Bradford’s courts have recently seen numerous cases where people have been trafficked into District, and often the country, by criminal gangs and forced to tend cannabis farms.

The committee will be told that bodies like police and Councils are developing a better understanding of the issue - similar to how the past decade has seen authorities better understand and address the issue of child sexual exploitation or grooming.

A group called the Bradford Modern Day Slavery Operational Group was recently set up specifically to deal with the issue, and has led to an increase in people reporting concerns about possible crimes.

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In the last six weeks alone the group has been passed “24 pieces of modern day slavery related intelligence.”

However - the group has been unable to meet physically for months because of Covid-19, instead having to do much of its planning on Skype.

A report to the Committee says: “Nationally and locally, safeguarding partners are now addressing the emergence of numerous themes including serious and organised crime, modern day slavery and criminal exploitation as new threats in a similar way to the same conversations in the last decade around child sexual exploitation.

“This is not only within children’s safeguarding arrangements but also recognising that vulnerable adults can be exploited in the same way.

“The true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in Bradford, like in the rest of the country, cannot be accurately quantified; reports from statutory agencies and the third- sector reference the fact that, due to the nature of the offences, there is a significant under reporting of the issue.

“Of data recorded between April 2019 and March 2020 shows there were 147 recorded offences that have been classified as Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking offences within Bradford District.

“These numbers reflect the awareness and understanding by professionals and confidence of victims in reporting cases.”

In November a court heard that a teenager trafficked to the UK in the back of a lorry had been forced to tend a Bradford cannabis farm with a potential yield of up to £150,000.

The teen came to Britain hoping to earn money to support his sick mother in Albania but instead was ordered to guard the drugs crop to pay organised criminals for his journey from France.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who is also the national lead for tackling Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery said: “Human trafficking and modern day slavery remains a threat both nationally and locally, which is why it is crucially important that we continue to highlight awareness of its existence.

“The ongoing international pandemic has not removed this horrendous activity and may even be used by criminals as a smoke screen to divert attention.

“Not only can it have a traumatic and life-long impact upon its victims, but those involved in human trafficking often have links to other serious organised crime and have no regard for human life.

“West Yorkshire has already led the way regionally and nationally for a number of years in tackling human trafficking and modern day slavery.

“I worked closely with West Yorkshire Police to establish and invest in a dedicated team back in 2014 and it’s great to see them go from strength to strength.

“More recently, I have personally worked with partners to set up a ground-breaking seven Force commitment with the respective PCCs in Yorkshire and North East to help prevent exploitation within supply chains and business activities.

“I will continue to push for further measures to be put in place to ensure victims are fully supported and provided with appropriate accommodation once safeguarded.

“They are among the most vulnerable and it’s right that they are properly protected and supported to help recover from the cruel trauma of their exploitation and abuse.”