Ask any housing enforcement officer charged with the task of going into rented properties unannounced and they will tell you that suspicions of accommodation being used for people trafficking run high.
People from the same country or ethnic group crammed together cheek by jowl. All very nervous and reluctant to speak to the authorities, often grabbing their coats and leaving as soon as you turn up.
Once discovered, people get moved very quickly.
Here is my evidence
About a year ago I visited a property in Leytonstone with an EHO from Waltham Forest council and found 8 people in a house, all of whom were very cautious of speaking to us about anything until they opened up about threats and thefts from the agent running the place.
We had an initial chat on the Thursday and returned to gather more information on the Tuesday to find everyone gone, replaced by a single family, similarly nervous, who swore blind they had been living there for 6 months. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that victims of slavery and trafficking have to live somewhere.
They are obviously not homeowners, they don’t live in council houses, squats attract too much police attention so the private rented sector is where you find them. Hiding in plain sight as it were, the same way that you see them working openly in car valeting businesses or picking cabbages in fields under the eye of gangmasters.
A landmark case was encouraging
The Police know this as well and I was initially pleased recently to see what all the papers reported as a “Landmark case” of Kashmir Singh Binning being the first recipient of a Slavery & Trafficking Risk Order.
As with all legal sanctions they didn’t just slap the order on him, like a parking ticket. That’s not how enforcement works.
It came via close joint working between Police and the local authorities of Birmingham and Sandwell councils, who identified 6 properties that he owned and another 7 owned by family members.
Two of his tenants were hospitalised and a fire safety report identified no smoke alarms of fire doors.
The council identified the properties and the Police tied them in with their anti-slavery investigation against a Polish gang by analysing Binning’s mobile phone records to show numerous conversations with convicted trafficker Ignacy Brzezinski.
Detective Sergeant Mike Wright is quoted as saying
“This order shows how seriously we and the courts take the safeguarding of vulnerable people”
and going on to say
“ I hope this order shows we will not allow landlords to put their tenants at risk and facilitate slavery offences.”
Good joint working there on everyone’s behalf, the gang of eight individuals were jailed for a total of 55 years but then I read down the story and saw what sanctions had been imposed on the landlord as a result of this ‘Landmark’ case.
The Slavery & Trafficking Risk Order imposed upon Binning contains the following:-
- Not to accept cash payments from tenants
- To agree to the local authority carrying out 3 monthly inspections
- To provide signed tenancy agreements naming the occupiers
The article says these sanctions “include” but they don’t report anything else, apart from having to pay the council’s legal costs of £14,000. Not to diss the work of the councils or the Police there but if those are the sanctions imposed, what sort of deterrent is that?
It’s not as if they just fell across him and gave him the benefit of the doubt. He had been approached by Police in 2016 and received visits from the local authorities who also warned him to stop allowing his properties to be used for trafficking but he didn’t take the advice.
DS Wright is also quoted as saying
“He claimed he had no idea people housed in his properties were being exploited… but all the evidence suggested otherwise.”
And in an article covering the story on the BBC DS Wright is quoted as saying Binning’s role:-
“Was pivotal to the gang being able to house victims easily and affordably.”
And yet he is still allowed to operate as a landlord. No banning order, not even a fine.
Surely this is not punishment?
I felt compelled to write this piece just to work out my own incredulity that a key person whose role in one of the most pernicious kinds of crime of modern times, described by the prosecuting Police as “Pivotal”, effectively gets a slap on the wrist.
Perhaps there are sentencing guidelines governing Slavery & Trafficking Risk Orders but if I were any of the officers involved in this one I would be very disappointed with that result and wonder where we are at as a society if these are the sorts of punishments we can expect for slavery these days.