If you have not watched the recently-screened Panorama documentary, on the topic of organised slavery in the UK, then you really ought to. It’s not a pleasant experience, because it tells us a lot about the unwholesome practices which are apparently now widespread within our culture – but it is also somehow redemptive and uplifting at the same time. [The programme is still available on iPlayer as at today’s date]
The documentary covers ‘Operation Fort‘, the biggest ever investigation into slavery in Britain, being conducted in the West Midlands. The detectives and other investigators involved in this exercise are highly impressive individuals, as are the barristers and lawyers who take the case to court. Whilst it is hugely reassuring to see dedicated professionals of such quality pursuing this profound evil to the bitter end, the less palatable implications are that this vast case is just the tip of the iceberg. As the detectives were following up their own leads, they accidentally encountered other slavery gangs operating in the same territory, and did not have the resources to pursue them. One house, entered as they sought a suspect who had already escaped back to Poland, contained multiple trafficked people in each room, with no heating and no lighting. It was heartbreaking.
The slavery trade has its root in the Europe that never features in the average europhile’s glowing perspectives. The victims of it are desperate to escape from their privations, and find, when they get here, that they are now the captives of their own countrymen whose criminal enterprises have somehow remained under the radar. It seems that the UK is the destination of choice for slave traders who live the life of riley, with no apparent means of support, skipping back to their own countries when they discover they may have come to the notice of the authorities. It is to be hoped that Operation Fort may be the beginning of something bigger – it certainly needs to be, but the underlying message of the Panorama documentary was that this kind of enforcement action is relatively rare.
It is unsurprising that, lying behind and prior to the police investigation, was the work being conducted on the ground by Christian organisations. The QC representing the victims described their work as providing the corners and borders for the jigsaw puzzle which the investigators were subsequently able to put together. Those Christian components, which helped draw attention (in this case) to the scale of the problem, consisted of Hope for Justice and Centrepoint Church. And, once the victims had either escaped, or been rescued from slavery, they were supported by the Salvation Army. These are the organisations and individuals which militant secularists are attempting to exclude from any significant role in public life in the UK, and yet without them, the victims may well still be consigned to a miserable captivity.
Freeing slaves was always at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. His very first sermon, recorded in Luke 4:18-27, is based upon quotations from the Psalms and Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And locally, in Cardiff, there are other followers of Christ, seeking to be faithful in following this aspect of His mission. One such charity, punching well above its weight, is RED: Community – I encourage you to get behind this initiative, and others like it. It is continually under-resourced, given the scale of the challenge, and heavily dependent upon volunteers – but there is a pressing need to rescue and care for these damaged and exploited individuals who have been as much let down by politicians who are taken up by their own grandiose rhetoric, as they are victims of the slavers.
There is a happy ending to Operation Fort. Sixty slaves of this single criminal organisation were vindicated, and their oppressors went to prison. But that is just one example.