Over 200 people attended a conference, held at the University in association with its Secure Societies Institute and led by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, to highlight the vulnerability of the people living on the streets to human trafficking and modern slavery.

Panelists Mark Burns-Williamson, Andrew Smith, Andrew Leonard, Gordon Laing and Phillipa Roberts West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson with panelists (l-r) Andrew Smith, Andrew Leonard, Gordon Laing and Phillipa Roberts

HOMELESS people and rough sleepers are highly vulnerable to human trafficking and modern slavery.  Ways to break the link were explored at a conference that took place at the University of Huddersfield.

It drew an attendance of 200 people, including representatives of 70 organisations that are active in the field.  The event was led by West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who is also the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Lead for Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

The event was organised in association with the University’s Secure Societies Institute.  Its Deputy Director Dr Maria Ioannou and Associate Director Dr John Synnott worked closely with the West Yorkshire PCC office to mount the conference, which was twinned with a parallel event taking place on the same day, covering the same themes in the West Midlands, organised by that region’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

Delegates to the University of Huddersfield Modern Slavery Partnership Conference were welcomed by Professor Andrew Ball, who is Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, and the scene was set by Mr Burns-Williamson.

“We know that those who are homeless on our streets are potentially much more vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers or organised crime gangs,” he said.  Now, the conference would highlight the issues.

“By having these conversations and sharing our knowledge, it can only serve to focus efforts around prevention of these horrendous crimes and human rights abuses offering increased support for victims and survivors,” commented Mr Burns-Williamson.

After he launched the conference, he was followed by experts who included West Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster.

Andrew Smith, who chairs the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, gave a talk on how to reduce the threat of risk and arm to homeless people, while Andy Leonard spoke about the work of the West Yorkshire Police Force Human Trafficking Team.

An overview of the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping in West Yorkshire was given by Gordon Laing, who is general manager of the organisation Simon on the Streets.  Philippa Roberts, who is Director of Legal Policy at Hope for Justice spoke about support for victims and the Homelessness Reduction Act.

After the presentations, the second half of the conference, which took place in the University of Huddersfield’s Oastler Lecture Theatre, consisted of panel discussions and feedback sessions that included contributions from participants who had actual experience of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Dr Synnott said that the University’s Secure Societies Institute was working on developing its range of external collaborations and would welcome the opportunity to co-organise future conferences on modern slavery.