A chilling account of “terrified young teenage girls wearing provocative clothing and being controlled by a foreign man” has underlined concerns Spalding is at the centre of a sex trafficking ring.
Act for Justice campaigners Chris Abel and his wife Jacqueline were visiting Sainsbury’s on the evening of Saturday, August 17, when they spotted the group in the car park.
Mr Abel, who lives near Bourne, said: “It just didn’t look right.
“The girls were only aged 14 or 15. When I got eye contact with one of them it was like getting a rabbit in headlights.
“There was a look of terror there. The girls were definitely being controlled by the man – it just looked wrong.
“That is one of the signs of human trafficking. Sex is easy money. These girls are often beaten up, threatened and their passports taken away.
“Those who are caught up in it are fearful of police and telling others about their situation, so we don’t realise it’s going on.
“We notified the police about this incident, but there are others we are aware of that have happened in this area.
“It is not just a national or global problem, it is happening on our doorstep.
“The public can help by reporting anything suspicious to the police.”
The UK is considered fertile ground for traffickers. A report by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), published in 2010, revealed that at the very minimum, 2,600 women were confirmed to have been trafficked into England and Wales and forced to work as prostitutes, and that an additional 9,200 women in brothels and other premises were considered to be “vulnerable migrants” who had possibly been trafficked. There are an estimated 5,890 brothels in England and Wales.
The incident witnessed by Chris and Jacqueline follows a complaint made to police earlier in the year by a father whose daughter was drugged in a Lincoln nightclub.
Before any harm could come to her, the girl’s father turned up at the nightclub to take her home.
However, a source told the Free Press that the father was informed by police that an intelligence operation was investigating a trafficking ring based in Spalding.
It is understood the investigation was dropped after information was leaked.
To raise awareness of sexual trafficking, Chris will set off next Friday for a three-day 200-mile sponsored cycle from Stranraer, near Portpatrick, following Hadrian’s Wall to Tynemouth.
The team also hopes to raise £1,000 for the charity Hope for Justice, who rescue men, women and children caught in human trafficking.
Chris said: “We will be raising awareness along the way in the hope people will keep their eyes open for anything suspicious.”
Ins Jim Tyner, of Spalding police, said: “Child prostitution is a dreadful crime which robs young people of their childhood. Lincolnshire is not an island and so, although rare, it would be wrong to think that we are immune to these problems.
“My officers will pro-actively target any individual who is believed to be taking advantage of desperate and vulnerable people or willing to trade misery for profit.
“Unfortunately this is the sort of crime that is sometimes hidden in plain sight. The public should always be vigilant: there are often obvious indications displayed by victims.
“ Local businesses should also be mindful of signs such as people having had their documents removed and who are frightened or anxious. There are often links to serious and organised crime.”
If you think that a young person is clearly frightened or in immediate danger, please call the police on 999 or CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.