Specialist anti-slavery teams are to be placed at airports to help spot potential victims of human trafficking.
Teams led by Border Force, the law enforcement command within the Home Office, will be tasked with identifying potential slavery victims, disrupting organised crime gangs and collecting intelligence on trafficked adults and children.
The first of the specialist teams will begin work on 1st April at the UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow, replacing Operation Paladin, which was set up in 2004 with the Metropolitan Police Service.
New teams will be rolled out to Gatwick and Manchester later in the year with further ports to be identified over the coming months.
Modern slavery and organised crime minister Karen Bradley, who was brought into the Home Office as part of a minor reshuffle triggered by the departure of immigration minister Mark Harper, said: “Our frontline Border Force officers are aware that they could be the first authority figure in the UK to have contact with a potential victim of modern slavery.
“Their role is vital in identifying and protecting victims and ensuring there is no easy route into the UK for traffickers.
“The new specialist teams will build on existing skills and joint working and extend that expertise around the country.
“They will be supported by the National Crime Agency which will bring its child protection expertise to bear in cases involving children.”
Border Force officers will be assisted by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), which is part of the National Crime Agency (NCA), which will help develop a specialist training package.
Once identified, child victims of trafficking are to be provided with specialist support under a scheme being trialled by a number of local authorities from April.
The new system will provide child victims with an independent specialist advocate with expertise in trafficking, to act as a single point of contact.
The draft Modern Slavery Bill, which includes the introduction of tougher sentences for the criminals involved, is being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny with the aim of publishing a Bill in the spring that could be on the statute books by the end of the Parliament.