PEOPLE in Essex are being urged to look out for signs of human trafficking and modern slavery as they go about their daily lives.

During a public meeting, the county’s deputy police and crime commissioner warned that “hidden harms” such as slavery, child sexual exploitation and honourbased abuse needed tackling head-on.

Lindsay Whitehouse warned that everyone has a part to play in identifying and tracking down covert crimes – not just Essex Police officers.

He claimed if residents looked into suspicuous situations, hidden harms would come to light.

Earlier this year, a force investigation led to Gheorghe Negreanu, 24, from Maldon, being jailed for five-and-a-half years for trafficking women from Romania and forcing them into prostitution.

He is the only person Essex Police has taken to court for slavery offences.

Mr Whitehouse said: “Hidden harm in Essex is very much alive and kicking. This is not just the responsibility of the police – we all have a responsibility.

“Only a few months ago a Romanian brothel owner in Maldon was sent to prison for controlling young Romanian woman, smuggled into this country and used as sex slaves in Essex.

“Did the neighbours not notice anything? Did the local shopkeeper or postie not smell a rat?

“Did no one think to tell the local PCSO to do a bit of door knocking? These types of offences stay as hidden harm because we do not inquire enough. Those young ladies had no choice, they were forced into being sex slaves in 21st century Essex.”

During the meeting, he urged residents to report any suspicions to police.

Mr Whitehouse said: “How many of us can be satisfied that every one of those men who clean our car at a car wash, but never speak to us are there of their own free will?

“Are they being paid the correct minimum wage? Are they properly regulated? Are we guilty of supporting slavery.

“We need to be more alert and more enquiring.”

Essex Police said it carried out regular checks of trades where slavery has been known to occur, such as brothels, nail bars and car washes.