Creating a fairer Britain
On 20 May 2011, four victims of trafficking won a landmark human rights case when a judge ruled that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had breached their human rights by failing to investigate their claims they had been subjected to domestic slavery.
The girls were all aged 15 or less when they were illegally trafficked to Britain from Nigeria. The traffickers, who brought the girls into the country between 1997 and 2002, had told their parents that the move would help them with their studies.
When the victims arrived in the country, however, they were put to work looking after the children of African families living in north London. Some of them were forbidden to talk to anyone and prevented from leaving the house. Others were spied on by their guardians and physically and emotionally abused.
From 2004 onwards, the girls tried unsuccessfully to get support from social services and also police officers working with a specialist child trafficking unit called Operation Paladin. The victims cannot be named for legal reasons, but after the case they issued a statement through their lawyers. One said: 'It took all the courage I had to walk into Southgate police station and Enfield Social Services to ask for help in 2004 but they sent me back to my abusers and then blamed me.'
I told a police officer that I had been beaten unconscious but he did nothing.
Another said: 'When I got away from my abusers, I went to Walworth Road police station in 2007. I told a police officer that I had been beaten unconscious but he did nothing'.
By the time they escaped their abusers the victims were young adults. In 2007, they received help from the charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), which led to their claim against the police. The MPS denied failing to investigate allegations of slavery. It argued that there was no legal duty to investigate such allegations unless the claims were reported while the situation was ongoing.
In a written judgement, Mr Justice Wyn Williams found there had been a 'failure to investigate' on the part of the MPS over a significant period of time. The police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate credible allegations of ongoing or past servitude, and in failing to investigate, the court found the MPS to have breached the victims' rights under Articles 3 and 4.
The police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate credible allegations of ongoing or past servitude, and in failing to investigate, the court found the MPS to have breached the victims' rights.
This case took place prior to the introduction of the National Referral Mechanism in 2009, which aims to improve the identification and protection of victims of trafficking.
Debbie Ariyo, founder and executive director of Afruca, said: 'For years our work has been hampered because many young people have not been believed by the authorities when reporting allegations of slavery and trafficking. This has meant we have been unable to secure justice for people in many cases... now that we have this precedent, young people who have been trafficked can report their experiences to the police knowing they have an obligation to investigate.'
Many young people have not been believed by the authorities when reporting allegations of slavery and trafficking....now that we have this precedent, young people who have been trafficked can report their experiences to the police knowing they have an obligation to investigate.
The victims were awarded a total of £20,000 (£5000 each) plus costs for the distress caused to them.