A SENIOR police officer says he is optimistic his force will secure court prosecutions against drug dealers who traffic young runners between towns and cities to peddle their product.

Introduced in 2015, the Modern Slavery Act increased the maximum penalty for slavery and trafficking offences from 14 years imprisonment to a life sentence.

But slavery cases are notoriously difficult to bring to court - and securing a conviction can be even harder. Some, like young drug runners exploited by older dealers through a mixture of cash, flash trainers and quick violence, may not regard themselves as victims.

However, Det Supt Jeremy Carter, Wiltshire Police’s lead on modern slavery, is confident the county force will get there.

“I’m optimistic in the future we will be successful in getting prosecutions for slavery offences,” he told the Swindon Advertiser.

“The problem is that, to a degree, it relies on people identifying themselves as victims of modern slavery.

“Very often, because of the power dynamics involved, they don’t want to do that. So, we’re very much reliant on evidence-led prosecutions without the victim’s participation, where we have to source the evidence in parallel.`

“That’s considerably harder than conventional cases where you have a victim who tells you ‘this happened to me’.”

In November last year, six people were arrested in Swindon on suspicion of human trafficking and managing a brothel for prostitution. During the same raids, targeting a gang linked with off-street prostitution, five people were identified as possible victims of slavery and sexual exploitation offences.

However, to date the police have not prosecuted any county lines drug dealers under the Modern Slavery Act. In the eyes of the law, the gangs can be responsible for trafficking young people hundreds of miles, ordering them to sell drugs in faraway towns. In one case, a Wiltshire boy was picked up in the north of England. He is suspected of having been groomed by a drugs gang.

Last month, figures revealed slavery reports to Wiltshire Police had doubled in just one year.

In 2018, 31 people were referred by the county force to National Crime Agency through a scheme aimed at safeguarding potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. It was up from 14 in 2017.

Of those people flagged by Wiltshire Police last year, 24 were children. The most common forms of criminal exploitation are sex working, forced labour and people being forced into committing crimes like drug dealing.