• Report highlights how police are failing to tackle human traffickers and slave drivers.
  • Conviction rate only 1.9% despite 200% rise in recorded offences.

Police in the UK have been accused of being "inconsistent and ineffective" in tackling modern slavery, as figures reveal less than 2% of investigations lead to prosecutions.

A study by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) highlighted a string of apparent failures by police forces when dealing with modern slavery accusations, including not knowing how to spot potential victims and showing "little understanding" of the scale of human trafficking.

Other issues include significant delays initiating an investigation, or not launching them at all, and a lack of coordination across police forces and the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The report also states that as police do not always recognise victims slavery of trafficking, they remained in the hands of those exploiting them or were arrested as offenders or illegal immigrants.

Many officers also believe that modern slavery and human trafficking offences were rare and not an issue in their areas. This is despite a report released by the NCA which described how modern slavery and human trafficking affects "every large town and city" in the UK.

The study was released as figures revealed the conviction rate for modern-day slavery offences in England and Wales over the last two years stands at just 1.9%.

According to figures obtained by Sky News via Freedom of Information requests, of the the 17 forces which kept data on convictions, there were only 25 successful prosecutions between April 2015 and March 2017 out of a total of 1,265 slavery offences reported to the forces.

In total across all forces, there were 788 offences recorded between March 2015 and April 2016. The number for the following year was 2,347 -a rise of nearly 200%.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, said: "In the UK, today and every day, thousands of men, women and children who are victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are being degraded and dehumanised.

"The police have a crucial role to play in protecting these people and preventing offenders from exploiting others.

"Whilst modern slavery cases can be complex and require significant manpower, many of the shortcomings in investigating these cases reflect deficiencies in basic policing practice.

"We found inconsistent, even ineffective, identification of victims and investigations closed prematurely. As a result, victims were being left unprotected, leaving perpetrators free to continue to exploit people as commodities."

Responding to the recommendation in the report, Shaun Sawyer, the national policing lead for modern slavery, said: "The police service is now actively seeking out and uncovering modern slavery.

"Across England and Wales there are currently over 400 active investigations, an increase of 218% from November 2016 - 85% of which are led by the police.

"The policing challenge ahead is considerable but we are committed to building on our achievements and improving our approach so we consistently safeguard victims and crack down on those who make profit from people."