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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Select Committee

on Tuesday 30 October 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: David Dillnut, Head of UK Human Trafficking Centre, Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and Mark Webster, Deputy Director, Operational Services Department, Serious and Organised Crime Agency, gave evidence.

Q215 Chair: I call the Committee to order and refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of members of this Committee are noted and I welcome you, Mr Dillnutt, and, Mr Webster. Thank you very much for giving evidence.

Bridget Phillipson: Can I declare a further interest?

Chair: Yes, of course.

Bridget Phillipson: For the later session, my husband is employed by the FSA.

Q216 Chair: Thank you. That is very helpful, Ms Phillipson. Let us begin.

Mr Dillnut, can we start with you because, of course, being part of the Human Trafficking Centre you have responsibility for looking carefully at the welfare of children who have been trafficked. How many adults have been prosecuted for the trafficking of children in the last year?

David Dillnut: There have been a number of prosecutions that have taken place in terms of trafficked children-a number of well publicised cases. I do not have the exact numbers of suspects, but there have been several prosecutions of traffickers of children trafficked both into the UK and within the United Kingdom. I can certainly ascertain the correct numbers and let you have them in due course.

Q217 Chair: But you must know, because this is something you do every day, is it in the tens, is it in the hundreds of people who have been prosecuted?

David Dillnut: No, it is certainly not in the hundreds. I would say it was certainly in the 10 to 20 figure in terms of prosecutions relating to children trafficked both into and within the United Kingdom.

Q218 Chair: Do you mean between 0 and 20 people were prosecuted last year?

David Dillnut: I have not got the exact figure but I will certainly ascertain that for the Committee and provide it, but there have been a number of prosecutions across the UK for these offences.

Q219 Chair: Wouldn’t that be one of the benchmarks of your organisation? You are now part of SOCA, aren’t you?

David Dillnut: Yes.

Q220 Chair: SOCA gets a budget of £500 million a year, or it did; it is about to be abolished and put into the National Crime Agency. In looking at human trafficking and the trafficking of children, the prosecutions of those who are involved in this is surely one of the key figures, is it not-one of the key indicators of the success of your organisation?

David Dillnut: In respect of the prosecutions and the offences charged, as far as the UKHTC and SOCA are concerned it is not a primary performance indicator because the work of the trafficking centre is to advise and assist the forces or other agencies conducting prosecutions, and allow the forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct those prosecutions. We do not, as the Human Trafficking Centre, have a responsibility to conduct prosecutions.

Q221 Chair: You are just there to give advice?

David Dillnut: That is the role of the Human Trafficking Centre, yes.

Q222 Chair: Right. Have you seen any links between child trafficking, and by that I mean internal child trafficking-

David Dillnut: In the UK?

Chair: In the UK, and child grooming which is the subject, of course, of the inquiry that the Committee is conducting?

David Dillnut: Certainly, there has been evidence of child sexual exploitation and grooming, leading into and forming part of trafficking of children within the United Kingdom. There have certainly been cases and there is certainly information and intelligence to that effect, yes.

Q223 Chair: Mr Webster, tell us about your involvement in all this. This is obviously an issue that concerns the Committee and the public. You have no doubt read the articles in The Times and you have seen the concerns of a number of witnesses who have appeared before the Select Committee. What is your role in all this?

Mark Webster: My current role is the Head of Operational Services Department within SOCA. That encompasses quite a wide range of business, but relevant to the Committee today, I oversee the UK Human Trafficking Centre, the UK Missing Persons Bureau, the Organised Crime Coordination Centre and also the ex-NPIA units who have now come across into SOCA en route to the National Crime Agency.

Q224 Chair: That sounds very organisational. What the Committee is interested in is finding the perpetrators of child grooming. What are you doing in respect of finding out who is responsible for the grooming of children and getting them prosecuted? Presumably that is the important role of SOCA, or the NCA as it will be. It is not just to deal with organisational structures, is it?

Mark Webster: I agree. That is an outline of my responsibilities. In the work that goes on beneath that, I will first talk about the Organised Crime Coordination Centre. Organised crime group mapping as a concept across the UK has developed quite significantly within the last 12 months and there is an element of work within that to look at how we adequately reflect the breadth and the depth of offending in a number of different areas; child sexual exploitation is one of these areas and trafficking is another. There is a large piece of work going on now between the Organised Crime Coordination Centre and CEOP to ensure that we adequately reflect the breadth of that offending across the UK.

Q225 Chair: Yes. If I could probe you a little bit more on this, you have again given me a job description; you have not given me practical examples of the way in which you have been able to help. Do you know how many people were prosecuted last year for child grooming or child exploitation?

Mark Webster: Not specifically for trafficking or child exploitation, no. A point I would make on the statistics is that it is sometimes quite misleading to look at individual charges because they may not be charged with trafficking, for example, under the UKHTC stats; what they may be charged with are more substantive offences of rape or abduction. We can give you a further breakdown of that in writing.

Q226 Chair: The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire did have figures, and he was able to tell us that nobody had been prosecuted last year. I am just surprised that the two of you, who are both very much involved in the issue, are unable to tell the Committee about prosecutions relating to this very important area. I want to take it one step further. What has your organisation done to help coordinate action between, for example, the Greater Manchester police and the South Yorkshire police about these issues? What is the point of having somebody in SOCA dealing with these issues if it does not coordinate?

Mark Webster: I would say that it does, and it has significant input. For the operations that you have spoken about, there has been significant input from various different parts of the business I have mentioned, both in Rochdale and in all other inquiries that have been mentioned during the course of this Committee.

Q227 Chair: Right. So give me an example of why nobody has been prosecuted for child grooming in South Yorkshire, which includes the areas that you have talked about, even though hundreds of cases have been brought to public attention by newspaper articles.

Mark Webster: I cannot give you the detail as to why South Yorkshire have not prosecuted anybody for child trafficking or sexual exploitation, I am afraid.

Q228 Chair: Tell us about Greater Manchester, for example.

Mark Webster: There was input into Greater Manchester through the UK Human Trafficking Centre, through crime operations support-specialist operations support in SOCA-and we also provide surveillance support, expertise, operational advice and investigative guidance. Recently, for operations in Kent, in Oxford in Operation Bullfinch, and for a number of other operations we have provided direct investigative and specialist support, and we do that continually. I am sure Dave can talk about a number of operations, or mention a number of operations, that we are involved in today with various different police forces across the UK. There is a large input across a number of specialist areas into a number of policing operations.

Q229 Chair: Is this organised? Is child grooming organised? Is it an organised crime? Should SOCA be involved in this? Is it a group of people in Manchester organising with people in Rochdale, organising with people in London? Is it in the traditional organised sense that we believe the drug cartels are organised, for example? Is it organised or is it localised?

Mark Webster: It is a continuum, so you will have localised child sexual exploitation but you will also have organised groups as well. There are organised groups reflected in the organised crime group mapping so, yes, there are elements of organisation to this.

Q230 Chair: How many groups are there?

Mark Webster: I can provide you with that detail at a later stage if you wish. It is probably not appropriate in a public forum to talk specifically about the number of organised crime groups that we have mapped to this kind of crime.

Q231 Chair: Why is it not appropriate to tell a Select Committee of the House of Commons how many groups are involved, when we know about prosecutions and we have seen much evidence in the newspapers about this? Why are you not able to tell us?

Mark Webster: I could provide you with that detail.

Chair: You just do not have it today.

Mark Webster: I would find it more appropriate to provide you the information on the actual number of organised crime groups involved in this in written form or in confidential briefings.

Q232 Steve McCabe: I can understand why prosecutions might not count as a specific target for SOCA, but given that you have this overarching view and you are advising police forces across the country, can you give us some idea of the scale of the problem that we are dealing with? Could you say how many of the 43 police forces are dealing with cases like this, what proportion of their work it represents and how often you receive inquiries about this issue?

David Dillnut: I cannot give you the breakdown in terms of the number of child trafficking cases, but I can tell you that in the first six months of this year there have been over 250 occasions where we have been asked to provide tactical advice on all forms of trafficking, adults and children. As I said earlier, there are a number of similar inquiries to those that the Committee are looking at, which we are advising on currently. Because of the nature of those inquiries and the operational ongoing aspect of them, again I would say that I would like to provide that information confidentially to the Committee, but I would assert that there are a number of those types of inquiries that we are currently engaged with: Greater Manchester police is one, West Midlands police is another. In terms of the detail and the proportionality of their work, I am unfortunately not in a position to provide that to the Committee.

Chair: Thank you. Mr Webster, do you want to comment?

David Dillnut: Sorry, I just have one more point.

Chair: Yes, Mr Dillnut.

David Dillnut: On your question of the seriousness and the organised nature, the important part for, certainly, myself and the rest of the HTC is to do with the serious victimology and the serious harm that is caused by the nature of these offences. Therefore the answer to the question, "Is it serious and organised?" is that it is serious enough for HTC and SOCA to rightly be involved in assisting those investigations that we know about and are ongoing across the country.

Q233 Chair: Excellent. Just remind the Committee about your budget and the number of people who work for your organisation. I know the budget has been cut recently but what is it at the moment? How many people do you have working for you?

David Dillnut: We have 33 SOCA staff and two seconded United Kingdom BA staff who work in the Human Trafficking Centre, and it currently has a budget of around £1.7 million.

Q234 Chair: That has gone down, has it not, or has it stayed the same?

David Dillnut: It has been maintained at the same level for the past two years as far as I am aware.

Q235 Chair: Mr Webster, what kind of budget and numbers are you working to, to assist you in your important duties?

Mark Webster: I have different functions with different spreads, but the NPIA functions, or the ex-NPIA functions, are 161 people transferred across on 1 April. That includes the UK Missing Persons Bureau, which is 13 people. The budget for that entire area of my business is £10.36 million.

Q236 Chair: How many people do you have working with you?

Mark Webster: In that part of my responsibility, 161. Those are the ex-NPIA functions.

Chair: Right.

Mark Webster: I have some other portfolios of work with some other staff within those.

Q237 Mark Reckless: I understand that you advise police forces on conducting best practice interviews with victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. For the layman, rather than the more detailed technical guidance, what are the key elements to doing a good interview to facilitate a result?

Mark Webster: Advisory services cover an awful lot of elements, but we will advise on legislation, and what the best applicability of legislation is, what the investigating officers are likely to need to prove, any particular legal difficulties they may encounter, what investigative tactics we have seen produce a result and produce the best evidence, how we deploy our vulnerable persons team, so that people who are trained in achieving best evidence from traumatised or vulnerable victims will be able to advise on the judicial process, and we are also be able to provide witness intermediaries through the witness intermediary service. SOCA can also provide surveillance support and various other investigative capabilities to help achieve best evidence.

Q238 Mark Reckless: There was a recent case involving the UK Border Agency-I think it was called Ravindra and others, or similar-where the Border Agency was seeking to prosecute some people who were smuggling in people, largely from Sri Lanka, working illegally in the restaurant trade. That case completely collapsed despite there being quite a number of police seconded to the investigation. The most basic evidential and prosecution procedures were not followed. Are you confident that lessons have been learnt from that and it will not happen again?

Mark Webster: I am not aware of that particular investigation, but by all means I can find out what our involvement was, if any.

David Dillnut: Again, it is difficult to speak for the UKBA because they have their own agencies, but to go to the general point, where we can, as a human trafficking centre, offer advice to trafficking investigations, it is around understanding the various stresses, pressures, and tremendous fear that the victims have, and understanding some of the issues that prevail where they are trafficked from-cultural or country issues. This is expertise that we have built up over time and where forces or other agencies find these cases, we can offer investigative strategies that reflect those threats and the risks that the victims find themselves in. Similarly, if it is dealing with suspects we can provide investigative strategies that may assist an investigating officer to make more progress than they otherwise might.

Q239 Mark Reckless: Would you be happy to contact the Home Office and UKBA about the Ravindra case I described, and at least offer or make clear the expertise that SOCA and, presumably in due course, the NCA will have, because I certainly believe their investigation operation would have benefited from your expertise?

David Dillnut: Yes.

Q240 Bridget Phillipson: Where there are reasonable grounds to believe people have been victims of trafficking, more than half are subsequently found not to be victims of trafficking. What happens to those people?

David Dillnut: Clearly, between the reasonable grounds decision being made and then the conclusive grounds decision there can be a number of issues that affect the outcome, or whether it is deemed to be conclusive or not. Primarily, that may relate to the strength or otherwise of the evidence. It may also relate to an individual’s preference to not be included, and therefore there is no conclusive grounds decision in the NRM. What in fact happens if a negative conclusive grounds decision is made, is that those victims are-through the ongoing support of the contract holder, which is the Salvation Army-referred to mainstream victim support services at a local level for further support in whichever area they wish to progress.

Q241 Bridget Phillipson: Why are the numbers as they are? What is the reason that more than half are found not to be victims of trafficking after that kind of investigation?

David Dillnut: I think I touched on that earlier. The answer is that there can be a number of reasons, and indeed the reasonable grounds decision and the conclusive grounds decision are based on two different evidence standards. It is balance of probabilities first and then a reasonable standard of evidence to put the person into the support mechanisms that the NRM will provide. There can be a number of reasons why there is a difference between the figures.

Q242 Bridget Phillipson: Could you give some examples? I do not fully follow why.

David Dillnut: For the evidence to base a reasonable grounds decision, which is on the balance of probabilities at that particular point-five days into the referral-you can make the decision on the limited amount of evidence that you have. Forty-five days later there may be a different level, less evidence to confirm the original decision, and/or the victim may have said, "I don’t wish to be conclusively put into the NRM". There can be a number of reasons related to that.

Mark Webster: The reasonable grounds stage is set out to identify a potential victim of trafficking. Conclusive grounds are much more stringent. We would want the initial phase to provide as a wide a funnel as possible, because what you would not want to do is exclude somebody who was a potential victim. We would want that to be drawn as widely as we can, so we would expect to see it funnel down to the people who have conclusive grounds and, as Dave says, there are many different reasons for that, such as people’s willingness to engage in the process. Notwithstanding all the support available, they may not want to go through a difficult prosecution for many other reasons. There are support mechanisms for us to bring to them to support them through that process, but they may choose that they do not want to. The point I make is that we would want the number at the start to be as wide as we could possibly draw it.

Q243 Bridget Phillipson: Of the half that are found not to be victims of trafficking, what proportion of that would you say are people that perhaps do not quite meet the threshold but could be viewed as victims of trafficking? How many are simply people that have not been victims of trafficking? Are you talking about up to half? Are they people who have never been victims of trafficking? I am just trying to understand. Some examples would probably help to illustrate what you are talking about, because I do not quite know what kinds of other people you are talking about who are not victims of trafficking. Who are they? Why are they here? What is the reason they have come to Britain?

David Dillnut: I cannot give you the actual percentages, but again I can have that looked at in terms of what the NRM data would allow us to pull out. It could well be the fact that the initial referral and the concern was such that the potential victim was there but when we examined the evidence the person, by their own admission, would say, "No I’m not trafficked. I came here and I’m content with the situation I find myself in". There could be a raft of reasons in that area alone, and then it may well be that even if we think they are a victim of trafficking, they do not want to be put into the referral mechanism. Indeed, in our recent HTC baseline assessment we reflected that in the sense that the NRM figures say, "These are the victims of trafficking", but we are saying in our baseline assessment that we think there are more than that because they are potential victims of trafficking but they have not got into the NRM system. That is the point Mark is making: we try to cast the net as wide as we can so we can start to represent what we think is the true picture of trafficking into and within the UK.

Bridget Phillipson: Thank you.

Q244 Chair: Are either of you involved in Operation Yewtree?

Mark Webster: No.

David Dillnut: No.

Q245 Chair: There have been no referrals to either of you?

Mark Webster: No.

David Dillnut: No.

Q246 Chair: Do we know how many of those trafficked started off in the care of a local authority? Do we have any statistics on children in the care of one local authority being taken to other parts of the country? Is that part of your remit?

David Dillnut: It is not part of the remit per se but, again, it may be something that we could look at in terms of the data that the NRM hold to see whether that can be distilled for the Committee.

Q247 Chair: Mr Webster, not part of your remit?

Mark Webster: No.

Q248 Chair: Children in care who may be trafficked and moved elsewhere?

Mark Webster: We may well support investigations, and have supported investigations, like that, but the national referral mechanism is a means to provide support and to give a period of respite and reflection to allow people to make the appropriate decision. It is not an intelligence system per se that then deals with that level of detail, but we can do some manual work to fill in that detail should you require it.

Q249 Mr Winnick: You have both had a good deal of police experience; I have been looking at your CVs. How far would you say-both of you from different police forces in the past-has child grooming, child exploitation become much more of an issue? I do not mean what is dominating the media at the moment, but generally compared to 10 or 15 years ago. Was it taken really seriously then?

Mark Webster: Certainly memory extends back many years, when there were inquiries in GMP, which was my previous background, into various different child sexual exploitation rings in care homes, so it is not a new phenomenon. However, the methods and the tools available to deal with it have changed significantly.

Q250 Mr Winnick: I know it is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on I am sure, as in all countries, for a very long time. My question was more along the lines, how far was it taken seriously by the police at the time, going back quite a few years?

Mark Webster: My answer would be based on opinion and personal recollection.

Mr Winnick: Of course.

Mark Webster: I can remember some very serious inquiries in the Greater Manchester area many years ago about exploitation that took place with looked after children. It was taken seriously. I certainly think that there has been a spike in interest or in media coverage recently, and that can be no less than helpful if it brings awareness to the front line and to the frontline responders about the issue.

Q251 Mr Winnick: Is that your impression, Mr Dillnut?

David Dillnut: I can certainly reflect on my experience, and I can, as Mark says, bear testament to examples where child exploitation and child grooming were taking place. However, the level and seriousness that we are seeing now-so much that the Government has a strategy specifically designed as part of the organised crime strategy to deal with it-reflects the concern at the number of victims that we are now seeing and the number of cases that are more and more coming to light in terms of being discovered by police forces. It may be-Mark’s point-that because the communications and networks now allow us to be so much more aware, it is difficult to comment on whether the numbers are up or down versus 10 or 15 years ago. Certainly, we are currently seeing, as I know from the NRM figures, that the number of victims that we are seeing is increasing.

Q252 Mr Winnick: I have figures on the number of referrals of people involved in this terrible business in the UK. Those whose country of origin is the UK fell from 52 at the end of March 2011 to just six a year later. Does that mean that the problem is that much less, or simply that others are involved?

David Dillnut: No. What you are seeing there is the timing of when the figures are prepared and when they are released. In terms of the figures this year versus the figures last year for UK children, it is a consistent picture. The difference is accounted for by the release of the figures into the public domain, but I can assure you that in terms of the figures that you have versus the actual numbers of victims that we are seeing year on year, there is a consistent picture in terms of child victims in the UK.

Q253 Mr Winnick: Stories we have heard and the convictions, which fortunately have taken place from time to time, of those who bring young women into this country for one reason only, relate to the human trafficking of females, usually aged under 20. The emphasis may have been on Eastern Europe in the past but obviously they are from other places as well. Would you say there has been any decrease in that crime of bringing women into the country for prostitution and the rest?

David Dillnut: These are adults, not children. We are talking about adult females being trafficked for sex and sexual exploitation?

Mr Winnick: Yes.

David Dillnut: Looking at the intelligence and the figures we have, we are probably seeing a slight increase in the numbers of females being trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation, from a range of the most prevalent source countries.

Q254 Mr Winnick: I mentioned young females, but of course in some instances they would indeed be under 18 or under 16.

David Dillnut: Yes, certainly.

Q255 Chair: Mr Webster, a final question to you, are you also responsible for the transition from the NPIA on the databases?

Mark Webster: No.

Chair: You are not.

Mark Webster: I was responsible for the transition of various different NPIA units into SOCA. There were five of those units. That is the 161 staff we were talking about. Also, I am responsible for the transition of the Proceeds of Crime Centre into SOCA as well. There are some databases associated with that around JARD and FISS asset recovery that come under my remit.

Q256 Chair: On that, because we are seeing the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority later and we have an inquiry into drugs running at the same time, do you think that more needs to be done by banks to try and look at suspicious occasions in respect of money laundering into the accounts of people we suspect to be drug barons, for example, after the cases in America involving HSBC? Should more be done?

Mark Webster: I feel that that is not a question for me to answer at this stage. I am responsible for the transition of POCC to SOCA, which has not yet happened.

Chair: I quite understand that. I know SOCA is a big organisation. As you were here, we thought we would ask you.

Mark Webster: Thank you.

Chair: Mr Webster and Mr Dillnut, you have been extremely helpful. Thank you very much. You did say you would write to the Committee with some information and we would be most grateful to receive it. Thank you for your help.

Prepared 11th June 2013