Over recent years Bernie has been lending his expertise to both criminal and immigration solicitors defending victims of human trafficking. In many case victims have been prosecuted and/or face deportation. This is both a failure to recognise them as victims or in some cases where victim status has been recognised to a degree the Crown or Immigration Services push on to seek deportation. This shows a great lack of understanding of the position of victims and the world of human trafficking as a whole.
Recently this January Bernie's expert evidence was used in one of the UK's first 'County Lines' cases. The victim was recruited into a gang in London at the age of 11. He was tasked to minor roles in the drugs trade. As the control of his traffickers (Elders) in the gang grew he was sent on more demanding tasks taking drugs into towns in the Home Counties where they were sold. He was promised many things but most often was threatened and beaten. On one occasion when arrested and the drugs and cash seized by police he was blamed by the gang, beaten and told he has tio work back what was lost.
Much was made of the fact that while in the first instance he was always accompanied, on many occasions he travelled alone. As with cases of sexual exploitation and cannabis farms, the Crown relied on the fact that the victim did not run or go to the police. This shows a massive lack of understanding on the part of the authorities of the control mechanisms and dynamics of the trafficking situation. Traffickers do not need to use physical restraints to control their victims. It is mostly psychological. Your life will improve, or you will get paid eventually. However, when this does not work then the threats and fear tactics are brought in. Everything a gang does tells a victim, we are stronger than you, we can get you and at times threats against family are made. Victims are shackled by more than locked doors.
In this case the victim was born in the UK to Gambian parents. They split up when he was young, and he was moved around the care system and various foster homes. He was bullied and beaten in his North London school by his own estate street gang, but was offered protection by a gang emanating from a neighbouring estate. He was groomed slowly first with simple offers of protection and meeting a sense of belonging. However, then the tasks got more involved. "Go with these guys and keep an eye open", then "You hold this package and do what you are told" through to now take the package, deal the drugs and bring back the cash. In return he was provided with a jacket and trainers. His benefit for his part in a huge money making business was a jacket and trainers.
Our victim had never been to Gambia, did not have any known family, friends or community and because his parents never applied for UK citizenship the Crown felt it OK to deport him to a strange country.
However, justice prevailed and this month his appeal was granted based in part on the expert witness testimony of Bernie. The Judge cited and acknowledged Bernie's evidence that PGJ was indeed a victim of human trafficking by a County Lines drugs gang.
SPC are thankful for the instruction by Siobhan Foulner of Wilsons Solicitors and we were happy to play our part in this unique and challenging case.