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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
People-trafficking centre opens
Police raid
Operation Pentameter involved police raids across the country
Europe's first dedicated centre for victims of people trafficking has opened in Sheffield.

The Human Trafficking Centre will aim to provide specialist care for the victims - mostly women brought from abroad and forced into prostitution.

Run by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the unit is the first of its kind in the UK, where academics and experts work together under one roof.

There are thought to be hundreds of trafficked women in the UK.

'Heinous crime'

Specially trained police, lawyers and immigration officials will work at the facility.

They will continue the work of Operation Pentameter - the UK's first national campaign to target human trafficking in the sex industry.

The centre has the potential to subvert traffickers using the UK as a destination country
Poppy Project spokeswoman

But the Sheffield centre will also deal with trafficking involving labour exploitation, children and domestic servants.

Solicitor General Mike O' Brien opened the centre at a secret location in the city on Tuesday.

He said: "Some victims do not even realise they are being trafficked until they arrive and then find the job they were promised as a waitress turns out to be enforced servitude as a prostitute, including being beaten and raped.

"Today in London I am told that trafficked women can be bought and sold for as little as 3,000 each.

"They often live in terror, believing that if they try to escape their pimps will kill them."

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker also toured the new facility and met the staff.

OPERATION PENTAMETER
515 properties raided in UK and Ireland
84 women rescued including 12 children
Women were from Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and eastern Europe
More than 300,000 cash recovered
232 arrests made
134 charges brought

Deputy Chief Constable Graham Maxwell called trafficking a "heinous crime" and said the facility would take a "victim-centred approach".

"So that when a person is discovered who has been trafficked, that first point of contact is a positive one and we have the right support mechanisms in place to look after their welfare."

He said many of the victims had been forced into the sex industry and had effectively been raped up to 30 times a day.

Some did not even know which country they were in.

'Protect women'

Experts at the Sheffield centre will also offer training to police forces across the country.

The Poppy Project, which provides support and accommodation to women who have been trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, welcomed the centre.

A spokeswoman said: "The centre has the potential to subvert traffickers using the UK as a destination country.

"It also sends a message to the women on the Poppy scheme that the UK will implement measures to protect and value women who are victims of human trafficking.


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