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Police visit Fenland car washes in bid to combat modern slavery

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Police have visited hand car washes in Fenland with partner agencies as part of ongoing efforts to combat modern slavery.

Officers were joined by representatives from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the Environment Agency as they visited 15 sites across the county in the last three weeks, including several in Fenland.

They spoke to workers and business owners to help identify any potential victims of modern slavery.

Police car wash visits (57690868)
Police car wash visits (57690868)

Although no victims of slavery were rescued, warning notices were issued to some of the businesses believed to be paying workers below the national minimum wage or who were employing people who may not have the right to work in the UK.

The Environment Agency also issued guidance to some sites concerning appropriate drainage and the storage of cleaning chemicals.

Whilst most hand car washes are legitimate businesses, nationally there have been multiple cases of modern slavery linked to the industry, making them of particular interest to police.

Police car wash visits (57690862)
Police car wash visits (57690862)

In recent weeks two people in Bristol were jailed after exploiting workers at a hand car wash and subjecting them to horrendous abuse.

The action in the last three weeks formed part of Operation Aidant, which is led by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Police car wash visits (57690866)
Police car wash visits (57690866)

Signs of modern slavery relevant to car washes include people:

  • Seeming overly tired, withdrawn or avoiding eye contact;
  • Looking unkempt or showing signs of physical abuse;
  • Appearing fearful or intimidated by management;
  • Having a lack of protective equipment;
  • Not being able to come and go as they wish;
  • Being unpaid or paid very little;
  • Working excessively long or unusual hours;
  • Businesses only accepting cash.

Detective Superintendent Ian Middleton said: “I’m pleased that we were able to team up with partner agencies to visit these sites and check on the welfare of workers.

Police car wash visits (57690864)
Police car wash visits (57690864)

“Although the vast majority of hand car washes are run as reputable businesses, sadly some exploit workers to maximise profits.

“At a time when money is increasingly tight, it is understandably tempting to seek out goods and services that are as cheap as possible, but please do not allow this to blind you to the exploitation and suffering of other people who may be paying a very heavy price for the money you are saving.

“Often, enslaved people don’t realise they are victims, or they are so scared of those controlling them that they don’t see a way out. That’s where the public come in – please know the signs of modern slavery and report any concerns.

“Please let us know if a situation doesn’t seem quite right. We’d much rather attend the premises and discover everything is legitimate than have a victim of slavery trapped in a horrendous situation.”

Phil Davies, Head of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, said: “This operation again displays the ongoing commitment of the JUWC to work alongside partners, utilising joint resources and powers to react to intelligence and information.

“Figures from Hope for Justice show two thirds of victims of modern slavery have worked in the waste industry. Any type of human exploitation is completely unacceptable.

“We will continue to find ways to impact upon and pursue those individuals and companies who use the waste industry to commit crime, target vulnerable people and harm the environment.”

For more information on the signs of modern slavery, or to make a report, visit Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s website.

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