Dozens of potential modern slavery victims in Wiltshire were referred to police in 2019.

Official Home Office data shows that 86 potential cases were referred to Wiltshire Police in last year, an significant increase from the previous year where 39 were recorded.

The rise in referrals to Wiltshire Police reflected the trend across the UK, where 10,627 referrals were made last year, a 52 per cent increase during the same period.

However, just 7 per cent of referrals made in 2019 received a 'conclusive grounds' decision – meaning they were positively identified as modern slavery victims and could access specialist services and support.

However, Wiltshire Police say that the increase is a reflection on a ‘greater awareness’ in identifying exploitation.

Det supt Steve Kirby said: “Modern slavery tends to be a hidden crime that is often linked with other crime types, such as county lines and this increase doesn’t necessarily mean that more crime of this type is happening, but instead, that alongside our partners we are better at identifying it.”

A spokesman for the Human Trafficking Foundation said agreed, saying that the figures don’t reflect an increase in exploitation, but a great awareness of what exploitation is.

They said: “We’re getting much better at identifying what exploitation is and there’s much great awareness, as well as more resources going in from government.

“It’s one of those sectors where a rise is seen as a good thing because it’s a hidden crime and not a visible one.”

Det supt Kirby continued: “This increase in referrals is indicative of the greater awareness we now have in place amongst our partners following a number of training and awareness events that we have run in the past year.

“As a result of this training we are now seeing an increase in submissions from non-police first responders which is really positive.

“Despite Covid-19 and the current lockdown in place we continue to work with our partners to identify and safeguard those who are being exploited or are at risk of being so.

“Together as a community we can eradicate slavery and trafficking in Wiltshire, and reduce the exploitation of the most vulnerable people. We need the public to remain vigilant, think exploitation and report any concerns to us via 101, no matter how small they may be.

“That small piece of intelligence could be the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that we need to identify those being exploited and take action.”