The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK - Home Affairs Committee Contents

6  Prosecution

155. It is difficult to describe a typical trafficker as they vary so greatly. Some are 'sole traders'—they buy, for example, a child victim, bring him or her to the UK and exploit the child. In the case of domestic workers, it is usually the employer who is the only trafficker, (though Kalayaan has sometimes heard of workers being recruited by someone else to work for the employer: these recruiters are usually sole traders rather than part of a gang[270]). Some traffickers are in gangs loosely linked to other gangs in a chain, each part specialising in recruiting or transporting or exploiting victims.[271] Other networks are highly organised and control the whole process from country of origin to final destination. Gangs may be linked together as family members, or in ethnic or clan groups, or just as business partners.[272] CEOP thought East European and West African traffickers were particularly likely to be in organised crime groups, traffickers from elsewhere in less formal groupings.[273] In some countries, such as Albania, criminal gangs are deeply embedded in society, making victims more fearful of reprisals on themselves or their families.[274] Traffickers may specialise in trading human beings, or people may be just one of the commodities they buy and sell illegally, forming part of a business that may at various times include narcotics or weapons or cigarettes, depending on profitability.[275] The Gangmasters Licensing Authority told us that where gangmasters were involved in one type of criminal activity in relation to the exploitation of labour, they tended also to be involved in others, but the Authority found it difficult to judge the extent to which the most serious organised crime was involved in labour trafficking into the UK.[276]

156. The UKHTC described gangs as innovative and creative, constantly changing their tactics. ATLeP added that a major problem is the diffuse and often informal nature of the trade: gangs, though small, seem to transform themselves continuously with the result that lawyers involved in such cases do not see the same perpetrator twice. Furthermore, the nature of the sex trade means that many people other than the actual trafficker are involved to some extent in the crime, as doormen, drivers, maids, and so on.[277] Many gangs are extremely brutal: Balkan gangs trafficking women into sexual exploitation habitually rape and beat women into submission. Vietnamese gangs do not generally assault the girls they traffic because the girls' virginity makes them more valuable. Nigerians often intimidate their victims through voodoo.[278] The Poppy Project told us that the predominant nationalities of gangs involved in sex trafficking were Albanian, Lithuanian, Russian and Chinese. The Metropolitan Police emphasised the involvement of Russian and Ukrainian organised crime. Europol said that, across the EU, the main national origins of gangs were Romanian, Bulgarian and Nigerian, though nationals of other Member and border states were involved. Europol also noted that whereas until recently traffickers were predominantly male, far more women were becoming involved.[279] The Home Office said that a trafficker controlling two victims for sexual exploitation typically made £1,000-£2,000 a week from them.[280]

157. Because of the brutality of many traffickers, victims are terrified about giving information.[281] Sometimes victims are wary of authorities because of corruption in their own country or because their traffickers have told them that the UK authorities will maltreat them. According to Anti-Slavery International, a further disincentive to co-operation by those trafficked for forced labour is the fact that no accommodation or other support is provided for such victims.[282] The UKHTC said that the police go to great lengths to find corroborative evidence to reduce the need for victims to act as witnesses in court. If they have to be called as witnesses, the police try to provide good protection, keeping them in safe accommodation. Occasionally, victims are allowed to give evidence by videolink if they have returned to their home country.[283] However, many victims suffer such trauma and fear that they do not make convincing witnesses anyway.[284] At the time that the UKHTC gave oral evidence to us, the police were very worried that a judicial ruling against the admissibility of evidence from an anonymous witness would have a deleterious impact on human trafficking cases.[285]

158. As a result of these difficulties, by spring 2008 there had been no prosecutions for the trafficking of migrant domestic workers, no prosecution for forced labour (in the four years since a specific offence was introduced), and no successful conviction of anyone for trafficking an African child. In contrast, there had been more than 70 successful convictions for sex trafficking, although the Poppy Project noted none of these was of a Nigerian perpetrator, despite the fact that the largest group of its clients were Nigerian women trafficked by fellow countrymen.[286] The situation had improved a little by the time the Home Office Minister, Mr Alan Campbell, gave evidence to us in December 2008: he reported that a total of 92 people had been convicted of sex trafficking, and there had been four recent convictions for labour trafficking.[287] The European Commission said there were only between 100 and 300 prosecutions of traffickers per year across the EU.[288]

159. Many of our witnesses expressed disappointment at the low rate of prosecutions and convictions for trafficking. They said that, given the difficulty of finding enough convincing evidence to obtain a conviction for trafficking, the police and CPS often resorted to joint or alternative charges such as rape, sexual assault, blackmail, coercion, violence, false documentation and money laundering.[289] They cited the examples of two police operations, Operation Pentameter 1, which resulted in 134 people being charged, only 32 of whom were charged with trafficking and the rest for rape, and Operation Glover (relating to the trafficking of a child within the UK) when the perpetrator was convicted of rape. The Metropolitan Police was of the view that there was still more scope for involving financial investigators in inquiries into trafficking to reduce the profitability of the crime.[290] The UKHTC spoke of the 'Al Capone' approach—taking any legitimate means to disrupt the traffickers and secure the victims.[291] Europol told us that prosecuting traffickers for other offences was common across Europe, adding: "From our viewpoint, the trafficker is still a trafficker, it does not matter if he is prosecuted for another crime."[292] The UKHTC said it was generally very satisfied with the length of the sentences passed on those convicted of trafficking.[293]

160. Investigating, prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of all types of organised crime are difficult—more so for a hidden crime with confused and cowed victims like human trafficking. We therefore understand the low rate of prosecutions for trafficking and we applaud the determination of the police and the CPS to use every legitimate means at their disposal to disrupt this trade and make it difficult and unprofitable for the perpetrators.

161. However, two disadvantages arise from the 'Al Capone' approach, one perceptual and the other practical. The perceptual disadvantage is that the comparatively low rate of prosecutions for trafficking as such adds to the confusion about the incidence of trafficking in the UK. This may lead some authorities to underestimate the severity of the problem and therefore not to devote sufficient resources to tackling it. The other disadvantage, pointed out to us by ATLeP, is that perpetrators convicted of lesser offences than trafficking (such as living on immoral earnings) receive comparatively short sentences and sometimes are released from prison even before their victims' immigration status has been determined, let alone before the victim has had time safely to re-establish her/himself in the UK or their home country.[294]

162. These problems, plus inherent justice, lead us to question whether more might be done to improve the chance of successfully prosecuting for trafficking. Victims' willingness and ability to give evidence is central to this. Three factors make it more likely that victims will co-operate. It is essential to convince victims that they will be protected adequately. It is vital to treat them as victims and not as perpetrators of immigration crime. And we agree with both police and NGOs that the provision of safe accommodation for all victims would be a significant step in encouraging them to act as witnesses.[295]

270   Q 154 Back

271   Q 259 (UKHTC) Back

272   Q 324 (Europol) Back

273   Q 403 Back

274   Q 208 (ATLeP) Back

275   Q 259 (UKHTC) This is one of the main themes of Misha Glenny's book, McMafia: Crime without frontiers, 2008 Back

276   Q 125 Back

277   Qq 229 (UKHTC) and 201 (ATLeP) Back

278   Q 201 (ATLeP) Back

279   Qq 61 (Poppy Project), 440 (Metropolitan Police) and 324 (Europol) The Poppy Project has found that victims are often recruited by people of their own nationality but then sold on to Albanian gangs operating in the UK: Ev 257, para 2.4 Back

280   Ev 195, para 28 Back

281   See, for example, Q 458 (Metropolitan Police) Back

282   Q 28 Back

283   Qq 262 and 264 Back

284   Q 215 (ATLeP) Back

285   Q 263 The case involved was not one relating to human trafficking, but a case in connection with Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police's operation against violent crime within the black communities. Back

286   Qq 27-28 and Ev 97, para 4.1-4.2 (Anti-Slavery International); Ev 106, para 20 (ECPAT UK); Ev 259, para 5.3 (Poppy Project) Back

287   Qq 529-533 Back

288   Q 345 Back

289   Qq 405-407 (CEOP), 457-458 (Metropolitan Police), 325 (Europol), 240 and 262 (UKHTC) Back

290   Q 457 Back

291   Q 236 Back

292   Q 325 Back

293   Q 240 Back

294   Qq 204 and 209 Back

295   For the police, see Q 264 (UKHTC) Back

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