Vietnamese trafficking ‘moving outside London’ say experts after bodies found in mill
Charities have warned of an increase in Vietnamese people being trafficked to cities outside of London, as police investigate the discovery of bodies found in a burned-out mill. The remains of two unidentified victims have been recovered so far from the rubble of Bismark House Mill in Oldham, Greater Manchester, following a blaze on 7 May, but police say they expect the death toll to be higher. Detectives are linking the discovery to a report they received on 21 July that four Vietnamese nationals are missing and may have been involved in a fire.
Greater Manchester Police declared a major incident and said work was ongoing to reach potential family members in Vietnam. Police are still trying to establish both the identities of the victims, how they perished in the blaze, how the fire started, and why emergency services did not believe anyone was present in the building.
Fire crews fight the blaze at Bismark House Mill (Photo: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service/PA)
The bodies were found by demolition workers after the fire. i understands one line of inquiry is that a basement area was being used as a cannabis farm.
Almost 1,000 Vietnamese people were identified as potential human trafficking victims in the UK last year – the third most common nationality. Experts say most victims are forced into cannabis farming or sexual exploitation. Jamie Fookes, who coordinates the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, said: “All the indicators are of trafficking, without a doubt.
There does seem to be a trend of cannabis farming moving outside London. “We’ve noticed people, especially young people, known to services in London turning up in other places. Glasgow is one example.
We’ve seen an increase. “There does seem to be some kind of internal movement happening, it’s still very early and we’re trying to understand it.” He said one of the difficulties was understanding the full picture of the problem across the UK.
The Government has introduced the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive appropriate support. Mr Fookes said: “We have the National Referral Mechanism and it’s a great thing. “But there is almost a perceived wisdom that if the individual wasn’t already known to the authorities beforehand, then do we accept they are a victim of trafficking?”
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Hannah Mitchell, who works with charity Hope For Justice in the North West, has supported a number of Vietnamese victims of exploitation.
Many have been forced to work off debts to smugglers of up to GBP30,000, and are not known to the authorities. “Sometimes people have been told it’s a year then they will have paid it back,” she said. “Then it gets to a year and it’s extra so unless they’re able to leave it goes on.
It’s very difficult to escape that situation and the debt keeps rising.” In 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese people were found in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex. They died as a result of a combination of hypoxia and hyperthermia, as the refrigerated truck was airtight.
Four people were later convicted of manslaughter, while three others were sentenced for conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration. “The victims in the lorry in Essex were found in the process of being trafficked, it was pretty clear-cut,” said Mr Fookes. “I think it’s very important to get to the bottom of what’s happened [in Oldham].
There is still a massive issue of Vietnamese people being trafficked in the UK, we’re consistently seeing instances of Vietnamese people being found in danger or even dead. “It’s a serious issue.”
Police are now trying identify the victims of the fire (Photo: Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service/PA)
Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which has a modern slavery unit, says any criminal offences identified as part of their investigation “will be immediately and appropriately progressed”.
The mill fire has also been referred to GMP’s Professional Standards Branch due to “previous contact relating to the fire and missing persons”.
Anyone with information should submit it online via the Major Incident Public Portal or call 0161 856 0055 quoting Operation Logan.
Information can also be shared anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.