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Criminology students team up with police to help tackle people trafficking gangs responsible for modern slavery

Students and academics at Sheffield Hallam University have joined forces with Derbyshire Police to help officers evaluate a huge people trafficking operation.

Five men and four women were convicted for their involvement in a conspiracy, which saw them infiltrate work agencies and factories in Derbyshire, and traffic victims to the area from Latvia to work.

Instead of giving their Latvian workers a better life in the UK the traffickers stole their salaries to fund their own lavish lifestyles.

The 28 victims were forced to work long hours and sleep on the floor on mattresses infested with bedbugs while the gang members used the proceeds of their criminality to fund their own lavish lifestyles, using victims’ wages on flights, expensive cars and general living costs.

A group of students studying towards BAs in Criminology and MAs in Applied Human Rights at Sheffield Hallam University, led by criminology lecturer Dr Craig Paterson, will work with detectives and other senior academic researchers to carry out an evaluation of the transnational investigation - Operation Doubrava. 

Following the research, students and academics will produce a report for police to enable them to learn lessons for the future on how to tackle people trafficking and modern slavery with transnational police joint investigation teams.

Dr Paterson said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to see how the knowledge they've acquired in their lectures can have an impact in the real world.

"People trafficking leading to modern slavery is a heinous crime and international criminal gangs aren't just involved in people trafficking, they are involved in other serious and organised crimes such as trafficking drugs and guns. These crimes cause untold misery and ruin lives, so we are pleased to be able to do our bit to help the police tackle this issue.

"The team will produce an interim report in April, which will provide an overview of the key issues coming out of the operation. The students and academics will also be interviewing officers from the Latvian state police who also worked on the operation."

The report will be used by Derbyshire Police to help the force tackle similar cases in the future and could be used to inform national police policy.

Detective Inspector Carl Chetwyn, from Derbyshire Police’s newly formed Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said: "Operation Doubrava was a highly complex investigation which bought two nations together to protect the vulnerable and dismantle a well-established organised crime group. 

"The collaboration between Sheffield Hallam University, Derbyshire Constabulary and The State Police of Latvia is an exciting prospect for all of us. The research will not only be used to drive improvements and shape the way in which we conduct our business in the future, it will hopefully provide inspiration for the students as they move forward into their chosen careers.

"Derbyshire Constabulary are extremely passionate about protecting vulnerable victims and bringing those who enable or commit this criminality to justice and we welcome support from other organisations who share this passion."

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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