A police boss is urging the public in Wrexham to join the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner is asking people to keep their eyes peeled and report any suspected cases of exploitation.
Mr Jones, a former police inspector, made the plea at an event held at the historic Old Courthouse Building in Ruthin which was hosted by Pat Astbury, the chair of the North Wales Police and Crime Panel.
Tackling modern day slavery is a key priority in the commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan which is the blueprint for policing the region.
He said: “Modern slavery is by its nature a hidden crime. If we don’t look, we’re unlikely to find it. However, once the rock has been turned over, the most heinous of crimes committed against the most vulnerable victims can be discovered – even here in North Wales.
“The worlds of organised crime gangs and modern slavery are not unrelated. Where one is discovered often the other is playing a key role. Gangs who run cannabis farms may have trafficked vulnerable foreign and British nationals to cultivate them.
“Organised criminals often diversify their business models outside of the traditional crimes of drugs and weapons and deal in people. In fact some of their newer criminal business models rely on trafficking people, for example County Lines – which preys on vulnerable young people forcing them into a life of criminal exploitation.
“My overriding concern is around threat, risk and harm to victims. Modern slavery presents great threat, risk and harm to all our communities.
“The ability of modern slavery to flourish depends upon its ability to remain hidden, to go unnoticed and unchallenged in our communities.
“The biggest misunderstanding about modern slavery is that it does not exist in somewhere as rural and beautiful as North Wales. It’s too quiet here, too peaceful for this level of criminality. We know that is not the case.
“I believe the second biggest misunderstanding is that if modern slavery does exist, it is only seen in businesses that have been deliberately established for the purposes of criminality, but they can infiltrate legitimate businesses and their supply chains.
“There could be victims of exploitation working in domestic servitude or forced labour in your street, in your local nail bar or car wash.”
“In the past two years vulnerable women have been found in pop-up brothels in North Wales hotels.
“Some women of them are being trafficked through Holyhead often to be sexually exploited, while slave labour had been used to run cannabis farms in the region.
“I have hosted two national conferences in North Wales, one to raise awareness within the public sector and the second one recently to raise awareness amongst businesses.
“I would like to thank Pat Astbury, the independent chair of my Police and Crime Panel, for being instrumental in pulling this event together and who has enthusiastically been spreading the messages from my first conference about modern slavery.
“I hope you all leave tonight with a good understanding of modern slavery and the threat it poses to our communities. It may be a hidden crime but it is a hidden within sight and we can spot it if we know what to look for.
“After tonight, spread the awareness further with your own contacts, get the conversation going. We need to talk about it and bring it out into the open in order to get the awareness needed to help prevent it and the intelligence needed to tackle it..
“Prevention is better than cure. My aim is to make North Wales a difficult landscape for those who peddle the misery of exploitation and slavery. You can also play your part by keeping your eyes peeled to continue rooting out this vile, insidious crime. With your help we stand a greater chance of achieving this.”
It was a sentiment endorsed by event organiser Pat Astbury who said: “The Police and Crime Commissioner has made Modern Slavery a policing priority and I felt people locally needed to hear this important message themselves because it’s not enough for me to know about it.
“It is unbelievable just how much it exists even here in the Vale of Clwyd in full view and people need to be able to see what’s under their noses.
“We have had weapons found hidden in public places and vulnerable people being exploited in car washes and nail bars so it’s far more extensive than we realise.”
The event also heard from Gloria Williams, of BAWSO, North Police Deputy Chief Constable Richard Debicki and Detective Sergeant Richard Sidney, Co-ordinator of the force’s Modern Slavery Unit.
DS Sidney said: “Modern slavery exists in many forms here in North Wales, an example being Operation Lenton which is the investigation into teenage girls being taken to hotels for sexual exploitation.
“There have been instances of domestic servitude which can be difficult to identify because it happens in private homes but there are also nail bars and car washes which cut corners to make themselves viable.
“There is also the criminal exploitation of County Lines drug gangs which is probably the greatest proportion of modern slavery here and which is where vulnerable people are made to do the dirty work for the gangs.
“The most visible are the nail bars and car washes and if there are eight people working on your car and you’re paying £7 for it to be cleaned then how can that be right but until it becomes socially unacceptable it will continue.”
Anyone wanting to report suspected cases of modern day slavery can do so by ringing Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or the Modern Slavery Help Line on 08000 121 700.