Today marks the one year anniversary that 39 people were found dead in the trailer of a lorry in EssexThis tragic event confirms the reality of modern slavery, writes Jackie Doyle-Price MP.  

It is a year since I woke up to the news that 39 bodies had been found in the back of a container.

I am sad to say that my first reaction was not one of shock. The truth is that it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. There are two significant Ports in my constituency and people-smuggling in containers is a constant problem. Sealing people in the back of a locked airtight container is playing Russian Roulette with people's lives and on this occasion had ended in tragedy.

As the news sets in and you begin to process what has happened the shocking inhumanity hits you. The reality of a most horrific way to die. The most appalling sight that awaited the Emergency services that attended the scene.

And the reality that behind each one of those 39 people was a story of hope and the anticipation of a better life. That's when the brutality of this vile trade hits home. This is an evil crime. It takes the hopes and dreams of ambitious young people and exploits it for profit. It is operated by organised criminal networks working throughout the World. It has to stop.

International collaboration must remain a priority to dismantle these criminal networks that are abusing and exploiting the simple human desire to have a better life.

There is justifiable outrage expressed at the sight of small boats arriving at Dover, but illegal arrivals by lorry are a less visible but ever present.

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And when we get better at detection at one Port the criminal networks simply divert to another. We know that as things have got tougher at Calais, the activity has diverted to small boats making the crossing and lorries and containers at Zeebrugge.

Some of them are fleeing conflict and persecution in their country, some are trying to find ways to reunite with their family, some are simply looking for jobs and better lives. Some are victims of trafficking. People being smuggled into our country for the purpose of exploitation. Even when they are not victims of trafficking the very fact that people are smuggled here without detection but here illegally makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Many simply disappear off the radar. Some would be exploited to grow cannabis illegally, or nail bars, car washes, restaurants and sweat shops.

Earlier this year the Centre for Social Justice together with a charity Justice and Care published a report called It Still Happens Here estimating that there could be at least 100,000 victims of slavery in the UK. To put that in context, that exceeds to number of people I represent as the Member of Parliament for Thurrock. The Government statistics say that there were just over 10,000 victims of slavery found in the UK in 2019. This means that we are only finding one in ten victims. We can and must do better if we are to break this evil trade.

And that means that all of us must stop looking the other way. Modern slavery is all around us.
Victims are key to prosecuting the perpetrators. We need to find them and support them not just to recover but also to support the prosecution. The best way to prevent more victims from falling prey to human traffickers is to lock the traffickers behind bars, dismantle their networks and seize their profits. This will send a strong message that Britain is hostile to traffickers, not to the victims.

We need to see more initiatives like Justice and Care's Victim Navigator Programme which sees specialist workers deployed in the heart of police forces in the UK, including a Victim Navigator within Essex police. It is designed to help those affected to rebuild their lives and to engage victims with the criminal justice system it has already seen significant impact where 90 per cent of victims with a full support plan in place have chosen to engage with police.

One year after those 39 deaths, four suspects have been brought to trial thanks to the diligence and energy of an amazing team at Essex Police. But this must be the start, not the end of the story. I want to see the criminal networks broken and brought to justice. I want to see more cooperation between Governments to achieve that. And I want the whole of society to be vigilant in playing its part in reporting this modern scourge.

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