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Spalding becomes new base for group tackling human trafficking

Spalding has become England's first base outside London for a Santa Marta Group to tackle human trafficking and modern day slavery.

The group was formed when the Catholic Bishops Conference in England and Wales hosted a seminar on slavery in the agricultural sector at St Norbert’s Community Hall.

The event - the first of its kind in the town - was attended by more than 30 participants, including the police, the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), fire service, local councillors, local businesses, members of the public and representatives from the local Catholic community.

Parish priest Father Jim Burke
Parish priest Father Jim Burke

The aim of the seminar was to create an awareness in the local community of the reality of slavery in the agricultural sector.

Parish priest Father Jim Burke said: "This was something very new for us in this area; I didn’t know what to expect.

"Personally, I found the presentations informative, but I am looking forward to discovering how the Santa Marta Group are going to proceed further.

"Having roused my interest in the problem and the crimes that are being committed, I want to know how we can possibly respond."

We revealed in our sister paper, the Spalding Guardian, on November 14 that the Catholic Church has been investigating human trafficking linked in the Fens for the last two years.

A Church statement said: "It is perhaps hard for us to comprehend that people are being tricked, deceived and traded in our part of the world, but the Catholic bishops have been aware of the particular problems in the Fens for some time and have decided now its the time to act."

Although Spalding is the base, the Santa Marta Group will cover a wide area, including Peterborough, Boston, Skegness, Whittlesey, March and Wisbech.

The seminar concluded with the commissioning of 12 volunteers from the Catholic community who will form the Santa Marta Group and work with the Catholic Church and local police and other agencies to tackle the issues of modern day slavery.

It's likely the group will have its first meeting in January.

Endorsed by Pope Francis, The Santa Marta Group is a global alliance of international police chiefs and bishops working together with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Pope Francis describes human trafficking as "an open wound on the body of contemporary society".

Father Jim went on to say: "As one of the Catholic priests in the area, I thought that the conference succeeded in introducing us - in bringing out - the local Catholic church into the wider community, which we in Spalding are passionate about."

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