‘What people?’ Andrew shouted. ‘I’ve kept my head down. No one’s after me!’
‘I’m sorry Andrew,’ the officer said. He pointed to Sophie who was being put into the back of the police van. ‘She’s betrayed you.’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Andrew cried out. ‘She’s my girlfriend. We’ve been together non-stop for three weeks.’
‘She sold you.’
The officer’s words cut across the air like a sword.
Andrew’s voice was almost too quiet for him to hear himself say, ‘What?’
‘Sophie – or Kelly Sanderson as we know her – traffiks people for gangs to sell and buy. Particularly among the homeless. Modern day slavery.’
‘But she’s my girlfriend,’ Andrew said. ‘She was abused. She was abused by a gang -‘
‘Now she’s too old for what they want, she has to find them new victims or people to sell.’ The officer put a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. ‘They would have murdered her if she didn’t. Kelly arranged for the gang to pick you up outside of St Theresa’s church today. Has she tried to get you to go to St Theresa’s today?’
‘She said there was hotpot.’
‘Hotpot’s tomorrow,’ the officer said. ‘You were going to be sold to a family who do off the books building work.’
‘I was a builder,’ Andrew said quietly.
‘Looks like we got to you just in time,’ the officer said. ‘We’ve got some of the gang in custody. We need you to come and make a statement and then we’ll put you into protective custody. You’ll get a bedsit. No one will hassle you. Not like in a hostel where the smackheads bang on your door day and night.’
‘A place of my own?’ Andrew asked with tears streaming down his face.
‘There are some days that make doing this job worthwhile,’ the officer said. ‘Not many days but some.’
‘Could I get a job?’ Andrew asked. ‘While I live in the police bedsit?’
‘Andrew, we know you’re no criminal or addict. That’s one of the reasons you’re getting this bedsit. We’ll give you a floating support worker to help you with your transition off the streets. Does that sound OK?’
‘It’s all going to be OK,’ Andrew said. ‘It’s all going to work out.’
It was then that Andrew realised that it was no longer raining. His trainers were still wet, but his feet were protected by the plastic bags tied at his ankles. Cars splashed water as their drivers headed for the shops, and hedges and trees flickered as birds came out from their shelters. Voices chattered over the police radio and a dog barked in the distance. Life was carrying on.
Homelessness in the UK has shot up. Traffiking and the modern slave trade are now a normal part of life in most English towns and cities. Sex traffiking of children happens in every town and city in the UK. Police numbers have fallen by around 21000 across the UK. Many police officers no longer have the time or the energy to be as humane as the officers in this story. I am harkening back to a time when police officers did their jobs and did their jobs with gentleness and compassion towards victims. We now have citizen groups patrolling areas to keep people safe. I’m not sure how far the elastic is going to stretch before it snaps.