1,804 signatures later and a lot of hard work by Sarah and Holly from Journalista as well as my office staff, I handed in today the petition calling on the Metropolitan Police to keep their specialist unit dedicated to combatting human trafficking. My sincere thanks to each and every one of you who signed the petition – 1,804 was an excellent achievement and just shows the strength of feeling about the trafficking of people for profit.
In line with the usual procedure, I presented the petition this morning at the meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority Board chaired, of course, by Mayor Boris Johnson. Also in attendance (amongst others) were Labour GLA Members John Biggs, Joanne McCartney and Toby Harris and the Green AM Jenny Jones. I would like to pay a special tribute to Jenny, pictured, who has been a consistently strong supporter the petition and has worked hard for many years on the trafficking issue.
In presenting the petition, I was allowed to speak for five minutes. Concentrating on Europe and London, I told the Board how during the football World Cup in Germany there had been a significant increase in prostitution and that most of the prostituted women had been trafficked for the purpose. It would be appalling if the same were to happen in London for the 2012 Olympics.
My second point was an explanation as to why the conviction rates for trafficking are low, namely that the victims of trafficking, often locked away and unable to go out very far, are frightened and vulnerable and therefore very unlikely to report what is happening to them. Interestingly Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, denied that the conviction rate was anything to do with the closure of the trafficking unit.
The real issue, as ever, was money. In 2007 the Home Office provided the Met Police with £1.8 million for the specialist trafficking unit on the understanding that this would go down the following year and that thereafter the Met would be expected to find the money for the trafficking unit out if its own budget. The Home Office duly gave the Metropolitan Police £700,000 last year. This year, it would seem, rather than finding the finance, the Met intend to close the unit.
I was very pleased that the Politics Show London filmed outside City Hall. (They were not allowed into the Board meeting). There has been considerable media interest in the petition, which again illustrates just how important it is that we do all we can to eliminate the vile crime of trafficking human beings, a modern form of slavery.