I congratulate Vernon Coaker on securing this important debate, and also congratulate Jess Phillips, who has a huge amount of experience and passion; we are lucky to have someone with her background in this place.
Just this week, a highly critical report found that police forces are failing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking because the cases are often too difficult and senior officers believe the public lack sympathy for the victims. This report should concern us all as we consider our international obligations and how we support those who have endured trafficking and modern slavery.
Sadly, I have my own constituency experience. As Tony Lloyd said, when we come to this role we have an idea of what we might and might not deal with. I have to say that I did not expect to deal with the issue of modern slavery in my constituency of Livingston, and the case we have dealt with has been deeply distressing, both for my constituent and my constituency staff.
My constituent was trafficked from Nigeria to London at the age of 14 and subjected to horrific abuse, including rape, before she escaped to my constituency. The Metropolitan police worked incredibly hard to bring charges against her kidnapper, but told us that the burden of proof in these cases is often so high that they are not able to charge anyone. Unfortunately, the Home Office was predicating her leave to remain on the conviction of her abuser, which in itself highlights the flaws in the Home Office’s internal processes. I recognise the work that has been done by the Government on bringing in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the work that they have been doing subsequently, but my constituency case highlights some of the challenges and flaws. One of the officers in the Met who was dealing with my constituent’s case identified some of the issues, saying:
“I would advise that the burden of proof in a criminal case is far higher (beyond all reasonable doubt) than in a civil case (balance of probability). In light of this, I would suggest that any outcome of the criminal case should not adversely impact on any immigration appeal.”
“slavery remained under-reported, but the operational response was improving.”
However, the review said that there were
“problems, including a lack of consistency between law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and poor quality intelligence at all levels.”
As things stand, due to the interventions from my office, my constituent now has a year’s temporary leave to remain and the right to work, but the clock is ticking. We need the Home Office to review its own processes and this case. Yes, the case might have been difficult, but those officers who worked on it fought tooth and nail for my constituent, and I want to pay tribute to the Met police today and put on record how grateful I am for the work that they and local police officers in West Lothian did to protect her when she was very scared. She was scared to send her children to school, for example, because she was worried that her attacker might come to Scotland and seek her out.
It beggars belief that anyone could lack sympathy for the victims, but that is what the report states. Anyone at home listening to the details of my constituent’s case and those of others would surely find it difficult not to have sympathy for them. At the age of 14, Temitope George was given some clothes, taken to an airport in Nigeria and told that she was going to leave the country. The woman who took her told her not to talk to anyone, and to do as she was told. She was brought to London and taken to a woman’s house, where she was told she would be staying and looking after the woman’s children. She asked the woman when she would be going back to school. That was the first time the woman slapped her. She also asked about her mother, but she was told to speak only when she was spoken to and that she was not allowed to make any friends.
Temitope George’s daily routine involved getting up at 5 am, getting the children ready for school, taking them to school and collecting them, and doing the shopping, cleaning and cooking. If she went out on an errand, the woman who was holding her would spit on the floor and tell her that she had to be back before the spit had dried or she would be beaten. She ran everywhere as she was frightened of being late. She was beaten on a daily basis, she had her head flushed down the toilet, and she was often privy to what we believe were drug deals in the house. She also had a kettle of boiling water poured over her chest. The details are very distressing, but my constituent gave me permission before I came to the House today to share them. I have not shared them publicly before, although I have raised her case, and I am grateful for the work that has been done by the Home Office today.
Temitope George was terrified that she would be killed and that no one would know she was there. She was told that if she ran away, nobody would believe her and that there was nowhere for her to hide and she would not be found. She said that there were often men hanging around, and when she eventually escaped at the age of 17, she was homeless and spent some time on the streets. She was held at knifepoint and raped in north London. She eventually managed to escape to Livingston with her now husband. They started a new life there. They got jobs and had three beautiful children, but when she applied for indefinite leave to remain, she was told that she could not work and had to leave her job. Since the Home Office’s intervention and the granting of temporary leave to remain, she and her husband have returned to work. Her husband recently won an award for social entrepreneurship. As I have said, it seems incredible in this day and age that anyone could face such persecution and terrible treatment. However, that has been the reality for my constituent and I ask the Minister to work with me and look again at my constituent’s case because it is so distressing. She has spent a significant number of years in Livingston bringing up her children and contributing to society there.
The Scottish Government have done a huge amount of work on these issues and recently published their trafficking and exploitation strategy, which identifies how to support victims, find perpetrators and disrupt activity. I know that the Scottish Government are hugely committed to that work, and I would encourage the UK Government to look at the good examples that are being worked on there. It is the duty of all Members in this House, and indeed of all Governments, to do everything we possibly can. The flaws that exist within the legal system and in the Home Office are real, and these are real constituency cases. I hope that the Minister is listening to us and that she will do all that she can to ensure that the flaws in the system are sorted out.