Sunday, June 3, 2012

Appeal for more human trafficking prosecutions - Local - Belfast Newsletter

Source:  Belfast Newsletter

PSNI Organised Crime Branch officers lead a woman away for questioning from an apartment in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland during Operation Quest.
NORTHERN Ireland’s public prosecutors must do more to bring successful prosecutions against those involved in human trafficking, it was claimed yesterday.
On Tuesday evening, more than 130 premises were raided on both sides of the border and eight people arrested in a joint PSNI/Garda operation targeting organised prostitution, criminality and money laundering.
The PSNI rescued three suspected victims of human trafficking when they searched 10 suspected brothels across the Province.
Officers visited more than 20 addresses and searched several of them.
The operation – which involved 170 police officers – resulted in five arrests for a variety of offences.
Yesterday, the All Party Group on Human Trafficking (APGHT) welcomed the raids but also expressed concern over a lack of prosecutions on the general issue of human trafficking.
In February, a man was convicted for trafficking in a Northern Ireland court for the first time.
Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International and an adviser to APGHT, called on the Public Prosecution Service to provide guidance for prosecutors.
“Lack of prosecutions for human trafficking offences remains a real issue of concern,” said Ms Teggart.
“We need the PPS to issue robust guidance for prosecutors as a matter of urgency to ensure that, when these police operations take place, we can be assured that traffickers will face the full rigours of the law.
“The PPS will present to the All Party Group on Human Trafficking at our June meeting and the shockingly low number of successful prosecutions will be top of our agenda.”
Speaking to the News Letter, a spokesperson for the PPS revealed they are to launch a public consultation on its “Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Human Trafficking”.
“It will explain the role of the PPS, how prosecution decisions are taken and how prosecutions are conducted at court.
“It will outline how the PPS works with the PSNI and other agencies and will provide information regarding the PPS’s role in supporting and protecting victims and witnesses throughout the prosecution process.”
The spokesperson addressed the comments made by Ms Teggart, saying: “PPS prosecutes all cases reported to it by the police including cases in relation to human trafficking, where the test for prosecution is met.”
Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who chairs the group against human trafficking, said continued north-south cooperation was essential in ending “modern day slavery”.
She said: “This is an issue of organised crime that knows no borders. Northern Ireland is in a weak geographical position with our permeable border and, owing to the high demand here for sexual exploitation, this region is now as much a destination as simply a transit point.”
David Smyth, from the Evangelical Alliance, said: “We hope and pray that these victims experience restoration and that the traffickers are brought to justice. It’s clear though that more needs to be done to tackle the users, those fuelling the demand for forced prostitution and sex trafficking.”
Speaking after Tuesday’s cross-border Operation Quest, Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall said: “We are determined to actually do something about this problem.
“It is not something society should stand for, it is a criminal offence and police do take it seriously.”
Det Supt Marshall said officers were responding to concerns in wider society about sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
“Today’s operation is focused on getting information and evidence on the extent of the problem of organised prostitution in Ireland.
“We suspect there is a number of crime gangs involved in this.”
A Garda spokesman said: “During the investigation to date it has been established that prostitution is organised on a cross-border basis and today’s joint operation was specifically aimed at individuals and groups intent on making profits from vulnerable members of society across the island of Ireland.”
Between April last year and February this year, police identified 26 potential victims in Northern Ireland. The countries they came from include Ghana, Zimbabwe, China and Slovakia.

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