THE number of potential modern slavery victims referred to police in Dorset doubled last year.

The Human Trafficking Foundation said a national increase in the number of identified potential cases demonstrates better awareness of the problem, but warned the figures could be a "serious underestimate."

The number of suspected modern slavery victims in the UK hit a record high last year, with more than 10,000 potential sufferers of trafficking, slavery and forced labour identified.

Home Office data shows that 59 potential cases were referred to Dorset Police in 2019. This was significantly up on the previous year, when 27 were recorded.

DI Mark Holmes, of Dorset Police’s adult safeguarding team, said: “The number of police investigations connected to modern slavery continues to grow and as of December 2019 nationally there were at least 1,821 live investigations – a 64 per cent increase on a year earlier.

“Dorset is reflecting this national trend. The largest area of growth is in the exploitation of children and young people. These victims are often vulnerable and form a readily available pool to be exploited by organised criminal gangs. This results in an increase of child criminal exploitation and criminality.

“Dorset Police is currently reviewing its response to modern slavery. A draft policy has been completed and is being considered for adoption."

Modern slavery was introduced as an offence under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, and can involve domestic servitude, forced sex work or labour exploitation.

Suspected victims can be flagged to the Home Office via the National Referral Mechanism by government agencies, police forces, councils and other organisations.

They are then assessed and can receive support including accommodation, legal aid and counselling.

The rise in referrals to Dorset Police reflected the trend across the UK, where 10,627 referrals were made last year, a 52 per cent increase from 2018.

However, just 7 per cent of referrals made in 2019 received a "conclusive grounds" decision – meaning they were positively identified as modern slavery victims and could access specialist services and support.

In a report accompanying the data, the Home Office said "this is a result of the current length of time taken to make conclusive grounds decisions".

Tamara Barnett, of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said although a rise in cases is "encouraging", some victims who are exploited to carry out criminal activity can end up being prosecuted and fall prey to exploitation again.

Dorset Police has set up a County Lines management team, consisting of six officers, who focus on safeguarding the most vulnerable in the community.

"It focuses on individuals who are being or may be targeted as part of the so called county lines networks," said DI Holmes. "The team also works to disrupt perpetrators by supporting at risk individuals with proactive visits and engagement.

“Labour and sexual exploitation are also emerging threats within Dorset. Action is being taken to identify and map those groups with an aim of driving prosecutions in this area of business and achieving ‘safeguarding through justice’. This approach is designed to protect individuals, disrupt and ultimately dismantle those groups responsible for perpetuating these types of offences within our communities."

Further information about modern slavery and human trafficking and the signs to look out for can be found at