North Herts Amnesty International event in Letchworth lifts the lid on slavery in the UK today

Laura Durán speaks at the Amnesty International North Herts meeting at St Christopher School in Letc

Laura Durán speaks at the Amnesty International North Herts meeting at St Christopher School in Letchworth, with Mike Dottridge, Philip Powell and Emily Soothill looking on. Photo: Regina van der Leeuw - Credit: Archant

The grim reality that people are still trafficked and enslaved in Britain in the 21st century was the topic of discussion at a meeting in Letchworth.

Mike Dottridge speaks at the Amnesty International North Herts meeting at St Christopher School in L

Mike Dottridge speaks at the Amnesty International North Herts meeting at St Christopher School in Letchworth, watched by Philip Powell, Emily Soothill and Laura Durán. Photo: Regina van der Leeuw - Credit: Archant

About 20 people attended the North Herts Amnesty International event at St Christopher School on Thursday.

The first speaker was Mike Dottridge, until recently a trustee of the UN Fund of Contemporary Forms of Slavery, who said: “Exploitation comes in many forms. The point about it is it is designed to make a easy profit for someone.

“It becomes slavery when it is combined with coercion – pressure that stops workers from leaving their job or changing their employer.”

Mr Dottridge said statisticians last year estimated there to be 10,000 to 13,000 people enslaved in the UK.

“That suggests there could be people enslaved here in Letchworth, but thankfully I’ve no evidence that is the case,” he added.

He cited a case in King’s Lynn where a court convicted two Lithuanians who had brought their countrymen over to Britain to work in food factories for 8p per day.

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Laura Durán, from the anti-child prostitution NGO ECPAT UK, then spoke about young trafficking victims who are forced to do illegal work for criminal gangs in Britain, then themselves arrested and prosecuted.

“They have no English, they have no money,” Ms Durán told the audience.

“How can this young person be the mastermind behind this highly organised criminal enterprise?”

She stressed a 2013 Criminal Court of Appeal decision to overturn the convictions of three children from Vietnam, one of whom had been brought to England in a freezer container.

Last on was solicitor Emily Soothill, who spoke about a landmark High Court case she is involved in – Antanas Galdikas and Others v DJ Houghton Catching Services.

DJ Houghton was involved in the supply of chickens and free-range eggs to Tesco, Marks & Spencer, ASDA, McDonald’s and more.

The High Court ruled in the six Lithuanian claimants’ favour earlier this month, branding the company ‘the worst gangmaster ever’.

“This is a warning to British companies to eradicate human trafficking from their supply chains,” said Ms Southill.

“Hopefully this shows we can fight modern slavery through the law.”