Support from Preston hub

Hope for Justice’s new Preston base aims to end the postcode lottery for survivors of modern slavery

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In 2019 Hope for Justice was instrumental in Operation Fort, a four-year combined investigation with West Midlands Police that led to the largest UK human trafficking network being torn apart.

Victims had been trafficked from Poland and forced to work in farms, factories, waste recycling plants and parcel sorting warehouses. Their products entered the supply chains of some of the UK’s largest retailers.

Eight members of two Polish organised crime groups were sentenced to a combined total of 55 years.

Police and the charity identified 92 victims, but it is believed there could have been more than 400 being trafficked from Poland and put to work across the West Midlands. Supported by Hope for Justice, more than 50 gave evidence at the trials.

Many of the victims had been forced to work long hours for as little as £20 a week. If they objected, they were beaten or threatened with violence.

A surge in possible human trafficking cases in the North West led the international charity to open a new rescue hub in Preston last year.

Since April 2021, the new Preston base has received 90 referrals and enquiries relating to modern slavery and intervened to assist eight victims of modern slavery or human trafficking. All were rescued from their situation and are receiving support to rebuild their lives.

In Preston the most common form of exploitation was forced labour, then sexual exploitation, followed by two cases of domestic servitude and one of criminal exploitation.

Some of those trapped in the exploitative situations managed to leave after a few days, but one had been trapped for 13 months.

Hope for Justice is a global charity set up in 2008 to work towards bringing an end to modern slavery and human trafficking, and to protect the human rights of victims and survivors.

In the UK the charity’s work is three-fold – to train others to spot the signs, to work in the community and rescue victims and to support survivors in their recovery – who if they wish, can become consultants with the charity.

In 2018, police in the North West reported 87 human trafficking cases, but that rose to 135 in 2019.

Since opening, the Preston hub has trained more than 1,100 people to spot the signs and know how to refer concerns. This includes creating a handy credit card-sized check list.

The charity has invested around £100,000 over the past year to enable the three-strong North West team to identify victims, support them to find a way out of their situation and then assist them to build a new life.

UK and Europe programme director Paul McAnulty says: “We want to get rid of the postcode lottery for survivors, where how they are treated can be vastly different depending on the identity of where they are living. We want to build a consistent multi-agency response across the UK.

“We have trained more than 60 per cent of police forces not just to spot the signs of modern slavery, but also on how to be more trauma informed in response to the biggest complaint, which is inconsistency. This can lead to survivor story trauma and that can impact their recall of facts.”

The charity’s training package was named as the best public service/not-for-profit programme at the Training Journal Awards. As well as interview skills, and how to gather trauma information, it advises on understanding non-verbal communication and how to get useful disclosure from victims of trauma.

The Preston hub, and the charity’s others in the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, provide targeted outreach in areas where problems have been identified. Staff investigate community complaints and concerns, and are trusted by the victims because they are not from a government agency or the police.

All of the hubs can also lead a rescue, with the co-operation of the victim, when the individual is helped to remove themselves from the situation where they are being exploited.


When Piotr was unable to find work in his home country, a friend living in England offered to help him find work in the UK and introduced him to a trafficker who arranged and paid for his transport.

He was promised “fantastic job opportunities” but found himself living in a house with
20 others, five to a room with just a mattress and no heating.

He worked long hours processing and sorting raw recycled materials, and was helped to open a bank account, but his bank card and documentation were taken by the trafficker so he had no access to his wages.

He says: “I was transported to and from work every day, worked over 40 hours per week, but never saw any of my money. I had to pay for transport and also had to contribute to the supervisor’s wages. I was told I still owed money for the arrangements to bring me to the UK.”

When he fled the house, he became destitute and found himself trafficked to work for a restaurant – more than 60 hours a week for very little money. It was there he met someone who told him about Hope for Justice.

“It was difficult to give my trust again, but I soon realised I could trust the outreach workers. I was malnourished and in poor health. This would have only got worse if I wasn’t helped.”

He is now in a safe house and rebuilding his life thanks to ongoing support.


After a serious assault left him with life-threatening injuries, John was unable to return to his job and tried working in a food packing factory, but his health problems meant he had to leave the job and he became homeless.

Through an acquaintance on social media, he was offered labouring work, but the 12-hour days for seven days a week came with no wage.

He was forced to live in a filthy trailer with little food and the family made him commit petty theft, threatening violence if he didn’t comply.

After months he escaped, but was homeless again and accepted a job on a vast commercial farm. Again, long hours, squalid living conditions and no pay.

When the police raided the farm, John had been there for a year and he ran away. He was introduced to Hope for Justice after he walked into a homeless shelter where staff had been trained by the charity.

He was found a safe house and the charity’s team worked with him to piece together what had happened. They accompanied him as he travelled across the country to officially report it to the police.

John now has his own flat and a job, he has made connections within his community and shares his story with others to raise awareness.

*Names have been changed

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