The UK’s first police support officer dedicated to helping victims of modern slavery has just started work as part of a major campaign to tackle the callous crime in North Wales.
The appointment of former British Red Cross worker Matthew Hazlewood was made possible thanks to special funding from the region’s police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones.
Combating modern slavery is a key priority in the commissioner’s Police and Crime plan, his blueprint for policing North Wales.
Father-of-three Mr Hazlewood is part of North Wales Police’s modern slavery unit and works with the Victim Help Centre which is a one-stop shop for victims of all crime.
The centre covers the whole of North Wales and is at divisional police HQ in St Asaph.
According to Mr Jones, modern day slave drivers are trafficking people through North Wales on a daily basis.
Criminals from Ireland are bringing people into North Wales through Holyhead Port bound either for back-breaking work in the region or further afield in the North West of England.
He said: “Modern slavery and human trafficking are appalling and callous crimes which reach right into our society here in North Wales which is why I have made it one of my priorities in my Police and Crime Plan which sets the strategy for policing the area.
“It is growing issue and the more resources we are able to put in the more we are uncovering. Holyhead Port is a real challenge and we know people smuggling and labour exploitation are issues we need to urgently tackle and address.
“There are so many areas that are a concern whether it’s the fishing or cockling industries, car washes, agriculture or elsewhere. It’s a growing problem that many police forces are having to address.”
He added: “In North Wales we are actually ahead of the game when it comes to the gathering of intelligence and how we proactively act upon that intelligence. We can be rightly proud of what we have already achieved.
“I’m delighted to welcome Matthew Hazlewood to the role and I’m pleased it’s a position I am able to fund. Matthew’s role is to support victims of modern day slavery and human trafficking.
“We have to remember that survivors of modern day slavery and human trafficking will present a long-term problem if only due to language and cultural differences. These are issues we will need to sensitively overcome.”
According to Matthew Hazlewood, he has always been interested in helping victims of human trafficking.
After leaving Natural Resources Wales in 2015, he volunteered with the charity, CARITAS, in Cyprus helping asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking.
He said: “I then returned to North Wales and began volunteering with the British Red Cross working with asylum seekers and refugees in Wrexham. A team-leader role came up and I accepted the job of helping Syrian refugees to resettle in North East Wales.
“I applied for the role of modern day slavery case worker here at the North Wales Victim Support Centre at St Asaph as it’s an issue and a problem that is very important.
“I believe I can bring the energy and expertise required to support victims and the work of the Victim Support Centre.
“My role is to support people caught up in modern slavery and also to raise awareness with the third sector about the changing face of exploitation in North Wales.
“Just how many victims there are we are unsure about but it is probably in the tens of thousands.
“Victims can be male, female or children and from all nationalities and backgrounds. Some come from a history of poverty while others are kidnapped or are fleeing political or religious unrest. But all are ultimately vulnerable and need of help.
“Mr Jones is quite correct when he says victims can be found working for little or no pay in car washes, in agricultural units, factories, nail bars or in paving and driveway businesses. And of course some become trapped in the sex industry.
“People are exploited and have their documents taken from them. They are then kept in isolation and within a controlled environment.
“I really hope to quickly make a big difference. I see my role as being able to spend time with victims while any criminal investigation goes on. Of course, it’s going to be important that my role doesn’t end when the investigation is completed.
“I will be there as long as I’m needed and will work with partner agencies to ensure victims are supported and helped for as long as is necessary.”
North Wales Police has further information on its modern slavery website at www.north-wales.police.uk/advice-and-support/stay-safe/modern-slavery.aspx.
If you suspect slavery is happening near you please report it to police on 101, anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 012 1700 or BAWSO on 08007318147. The victim help service is available from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on Saturdays. It can be contacted by Freephone on 0300 3030159, by email at: email@example.com, or via the websites www.victimhelpcentrenorthwales.org.uk or www.canolfangymorthiddioddefwyrgogleddcymru.org.uk