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Oxford joins forces to tackle trafficking
A HIGH-profile sex slave case has united Oxford to uncover underground human trafficking.
Pimps Anastassios Papas and Graham Cochrane became the first to be convicted of sex trafficking in Oxfordshire, in August last year.
They ran an Oxford escort agency and offered mainly Eastern European women for sex in hotels and clients’ homes.
Cochrane, then 49 from Bicester, and Papas, then 43 from East Oxford, were jailed for a total of 12 years.
The Oxford Human Trafficking Group was formed when the police investigation came to light.
The partnership is now working to teach city taxi drivers and hotel staff to spot the signs of trafficking and report anything suspicious.
Chairman Linda Ludlow said: “Papas and Cochrane was the catalyst for us to have a response to human trafficking in Oxford.
“We are now turning the spotlight on to it.”
A Government report yesterday revealed there were 946 trafficking victims nationally last year compared to 710 in 2010.
It comes after the investigation into a suspected child prostitution ring in the city involving up to 50 girls aged between 11 and 16.
Police’s Operation Bullfinch saw 16 men arrested in dawn raids in March. Nine men will stand trial in January.
All 58 hotels and guest houses in Oxford have been contacted and hundreds of cabbies will be asked to sign up to training sessions.
Chief Inspector Cecilia Agger, deputy area commander for Oxford, said: “Taxi drivers are the eyes and ears of the community. They are about all the time, they see what happens.
“People who book them and use them may be traffickers.”
She added: “We want people to know this is real. It is happening. We know it has happened, and we believe it is still happening in Oxford.
“It’s happening behind closed doors so that’s why we are so reliant on information we can look into further.”
Elly Pattullo, manager of the Acorn Guest House in Iffley Road, said: “We would want to help. We already pay attention to who is staying and if there is a problem we contact the relevant authorities.
“But as far as we know we have never had a problem with it before.” Catherine Bearder, anti-trafficking campaigner and MEP for South East England, said: “Investigations, such as Operation Bullfinch, show police are willing to take allegations of trafficking in this city very seriously. We now await the outcome of a court trial.”
The Oxford Human Trafficking Group includes Oxford Community Against Trafficking (Oxcat), the city council, police, and the Oxford Safer Communities Partnership.
The group also aims to raise awareness with schools, bus firms, British Transport Police, and Oxford Airport.
Andy Dipper, from Oxcat, said: “Victims may be forced into domestic servitude, street crime, cannabis cultivation, benefit fraud, or the sex industry.”
In June, Thames Valley Police announced £500,000 was to be spent on targeting organised gangs of paedophiles.
Concerns should be reported to police on 101 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.