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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

DUPS A-Team: Modern Day Slavery and the North East of England

The notion that slavery is a feature of the past is as dangerous as it is widespread. This is the first great misconception on the freedom of human beings in the 21st century. The second is that slavery exists only in less developed countries, and certainly not in the United Kingdom. It is the unfortunate reality, however, that neither of these statements bears truth. Rather, more people are held in slavery today, whatever form it might take, than ever have been in the history of humanity.[1] Furthermore, last year 5,145 potential victims of trafficking and slavery in the UK were flagged up to the National Referral Mechanism, which represents a 35% rise from 2016. Worryingly, 2118 of these victims were children, under the age of 18.[2] In 2017 the National Crime Agency identified over 300 live policing operations affecting ‘every town and city’.[3] It is the endeavour of this article to widen knowledge on the existence of slavery within our country, but more specifically its effect on Durham and the North East. With innumerable organisations and charities showing a statistical rise that is likely only the tip of the iceberg, it is now, more than ever, crucial to cast light on this cruel and ubiquitous under-culture. Whilst it remains uncovered, so too does the grievous harm done to the many victims of modern day slavery. Its existence is an indictment of our society; its being largely unknown is our greatest and most pernicious failure.

How does Modern Day Slavery Affect the United Kingdom?

Slavery in the 21st century can take many forms, the defining feature being a lack of consent. The A21 campaign, which combats modern day slavery, helps those forced into sexual exploitation & trafficking, forced slave labour, bonded labour, involuntary domestic servitude, and child soldiery.[4] Of the 13,000 UK residents expected to be in slavery today, most have been trafficked into forced labour in the construction, hospitality, manufacturing and car wash industries.[5] In addition to this, many adults and children are forced into crime and sexual exploitation.

How does Modern Day Slavery affect Durham and the North East?

County Durham is regrettably no stranger to such activities. The first modern slavery arrests in the North East were made on the 29th of November 2017, when three men from Ferryhill, a small town just 15 minutes outside of Durham, were placed under Police Custody. These men were detained on suspicion of offences under the Modern Day Slavery Act.[6] Whilst it is clear forced labour had existed in County Durham long before this, the arrests marked the beginning of a concerted effort to target those responsible for infringements on human rights associated with the 2005 act. Detective Chief Inspector Traci McNally commented that ‘Contrary to some of the popular myths about modern day slavery, often victims aren’t in chains, they are in debt. Protecting the vulnerable and exploited victims of this type of crime and pursuing those who commit it is something we will be relentless about in our activities’.[7] This initiative has continued with the constabulary publishing guidelines to help identify the signs of slavery. Furthermore, the Durham County Council demonstrated their commitment to the cause at the end of last year, by approving a new anti-slavery charter. This includes plans to raise awareness among employees, protecting the rights of whistle-blowers and ‘provides a consistent message on how to tackle modern slavery’.[8] However, whilst this is a step in the right direction, the battle is far from over. One hopes to see other local institutions follow suit so that a modern policy to tackle modern slavery is in force countywide. Troublingly, more recent police work has uncovered further crimes against human freedom. In April 2018 seven people, including five from the same family, were convicted after forcing victims from Slovakia and the Czech Republic to live in appalling squalor whilst receiving minimal pay for demanding physical labour.[9] The court heard that these victims, though not bound by chains, were held hostage by fear and intimidation, as well as their inability to speak English.

What Can YOU Do?

It is clear that there is much work to be done before the North East, and the U.K as a whole is free from slavery. There are a number of ways by which you can join the fight. Visit the A21 website for more information on your local campaigns and the ways you can help:

You can also visit the Durham Constabulary website for more information on how to spot the indicators of modern slavery and for all the relevant contact information:

It is an unwelcome thought that such hideous abuse is going on without our notice and it is a reality that only our action can change. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves and raise awareness. Please visit these websites and share them with your friends and families. Slavery is closer than you think.

James Megarry


4 March 2019








[7] Ibid



Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes above.

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