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25 human trafficking victims saved in Northern Ireland

Anti-racketeering officials rescued 25 victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland last year, Justice Minister David Ford has revealed.

The minister made the announcement as he launched the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) Annual Report and Threat Assessment.

The key findings of the report included the recovery of £4.2 million of criminal assets, the seizure of £9 million of illegal drugs, the recovery of £1.5 million of counterfeit goods, plus more than one million litres of illicit fuel and the successful efforts to rescue the human trafficking victims.

"Organised criminals will use every opportunity, will go to any length, to make money off the backs of this community. They are determined, violent and ruthless," said Mr Ford.

"The report by the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) underlines what criminals are capable of. They are prepared to endanger life and steal property, to smuggle fuel and traffic people, to use blackmail, kidnap and weapons to further their greed.

"The criminals are smart but I'm determined that our responses will be smarter and I want to pay tribute to the local law enforcement agencies who have worked together to disrupt and frustrate criminals gangs."

The Department of Justice said that although the OCTF has reported on human trafficking before, the recovery of so many victims underlined the extent of the criminal activity.

The news came as a report by the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee also raised fears over what it found was the rise of human trafficking.

Mr Ford said: "Human trafficking is nothing less than modern day slavery.

"By its very nature it is difficult to detect but the rescue of 25 victims of human trafficking this year shows that the exploitation of human beings is happening in our streets, towns and cities."

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