Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police

22/04/2014 3:15 pm

Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

On Day Two, shortly before the 'Combating Human Trafficking' concluded in Rome, the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police outlined his Force's commitment to tackling human trafficking.

Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, along with other police chiefs from around the world, signed a declaration which included the stated aim to 'eradicate the scourge of this serious criminal activity, which abuses vulnerable people'.

Following an audience with Pope Francis, he delivered a keynote speech outlining the Met's response to the issue, which has seen more than 700 victims identified and helped since the establishment of the Human Trafficking Unit in 2010. More than 300 suspects have been charged over that period as a result of the unit's investigations.

He admitted, however, that the challenges posed to the global community by a worldwide industry worth an estimated 32 billion US dollars are immense.

"With some kinds of crime, I think we can feel quite confident that what is reported to us reflects what is actually happening," he said. "For example, I think I can say, with a high degree of accuracy, how many houses have been burgled, or how many road traffic accidents there have been in London in the last year. Human Trafficking is more difficult to quantify."

The Commissioner added: "Living at the margins of our society, the people who are most vulnerable to exploitation are often also the hardest to find and to help.

"The key issue for me is how we convince all victims that we are here to help, and that we can make a difference to their lives, no matter how desperate their situation may seem. When you are living in the grip of fear, how do you know who you can trust?

"We should not take for granted that people will turn to us in their time of need, or that we keep getting better at communicating with them."

The Commissioner highlighted the need to remove the physical and psychological barriers that have in the past impeded communication between the police - and other institutions such as the church - and members of the communities most affected by trafficking and slavery in London.

He said: "I realise looking back that some of the innovations in policing that excited me as a front line officer had the unintended consequence of detaching me from communities… It is hard to build a relationship with a victim when you are talking through a bullet proof screen at a busy front counter, especially when the language and the accent may be unfamiliar.

"I know that churches also have difficulty finding a happy medium between security and accessibility. Facilities that meet the need for comfort and confidentiality can be expensive and difficult to provide in buildings that were made for a different purpose.

"But it can be done, and it has been inspiring to hear of innovative examples of how it is possible to provide shelter and support in a way that victims don't feel judged in legal or moral terms.

"So we should not feel disheartened. We have shown in recent years that with the right will and resources; with a diverse and more representative service; and with the help of technology that is intuitive and mobile, practical problems like meeting a victim who speaks a different language from our own can disappear and we can get to the root of the problem."

Yesterday, Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the Human Trafficking Unit also gave a speech to delegates in which he outlined how the Met has built successful partnerships with other agencies in the fight against trafficking.

And the Commissioner emphasised that, ultimately, all of society has a role to play in tackling the issue, likening it to the battle against domestic terrorism.

"We need to make combating human trafficking part of everyone's consciousness," he said.

"As with our fight against terrorism, prevention is better than cure. Much misery and distress can be prevented if more of us pay attention to something that does not look right or feel right, then care enough to do something about it. Once we have noticed something is wrong and decided to act, we can make the first, crucial connection."

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Text taken from the official website for the Metropolitan Police