Belfast Telegraph

Couple arrested after woman claims she was a domestic slave for six years

Probe: DI Mark Bell
Probe: DI Mark Bell
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A couple has been arrested on suspicion of holding a woman as a domestic slave in Belfast for six years.

A 33-year-old man, detained early yesterday on suspicion of human trafficking offences for the purpose of domestic servitude, is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates' Court this morning.

A search was carried out at a Belfast property where documentation and mobile phones were seized.

A 25-year-old woman was also arrested by detectives in Scotland yesterday as part of the operation.

She is being brought back to Northern Ireland for questioning.

Police said both suspects are from two African countries, which detectives have not yet named.

The PSNI has also not disclosed the age or nationality of the alleged victim.

Detective Inspector Mark Bell, head of the PSNI's modern slavery and human trafficking unit, said the woman had escaped the property where she was allegedly being held around 16 months ago and alerted a member of the public, who then contacted police.

DI Bell said yesterday that the victim was brought to Northern Ireland and alleges she had been held for six years until it was brought to police attention.

The arrests are the first of their kind in Northern Ireland and part of an investigation into human trafficking for domestic servitude which has been ongoing for over a year.

In the last 12 months, the PSNI's modern slavery and human trafficking unit has investigated 59 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

This is an increase from 36 in the previous financial year.

DI Bell said: "Modern slavery is often an unseen crime as victims can be afraid to speak out or may be being held captive and human trafficking for the purposes of domestic servitude can be particularly difficult to detect.

"Victims may be afraid to speak out so we need the public to be aware of the signs to look for so that they don't miss the opportunity to intervene in a modern slavery incident.

"Sometimes when trust is built up, victims may leave the properties to do light shopping or school runs for the family.

"I'm appealing to members of the public to be our eyes and ears on the ground and take those opportunities to intervene if they see people who maybe appear withdrawn or controlled, are unable to speak English or carrying visible injuries.

"Is there always someone else speaking for a person on their behalf?

"Do people have access to their money, identity documents and freedom of movement?"

DI Bell added: "During the last financial year, my team has investigated 59 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

"This is a significant increase from 36 the previous year.

"However, every victim has a story about a missed opportunity for rescue by a person in the community.

"I'm asking the public to visit the human trafficking section of PSNI's website and learn about the signs and indicators of human trafficking.

"It can be hard to believe that modern slavery and human trafficking exists today but it is all too real, especially for the victims.

"Modern slavery is unacceptable as it violates human rights and denies victims their rights to life, freedom and safety.

"The criminals prey on vulnerable people, control them by fear and exploit them for their own selfish gains.

"We are working as hard as we can but we cannot tackle this problem alone.

"We rely on the strong partnerships that have been formed through the Department of Justice Organised Crime Task Force but we need the public's help.

"I would also ask people to contact us with any suspicions that they may have by calling 999 if it's an emergency, or 101.

"There's also a modern slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.

"One call could end the misery for a victim who could be living next door to you."

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