BRIDGWATER has all the ingredients of a town which could be home to modern slavery.

That is according to Hidden Voices, a group which is raising awareness of modern slavery crimes and helping people spot potential symptoms that something is wrong.

The group were invited to give a presentation at Bridgwater Town Council’s Town Development Forum in the Town Hall on Tuesday evening (September 3).

Sian Owen led the presentation, explaining that there were 6,993 referrals for modern slavery crimes in 2018, 1,625 of which were UK citizens.

“Avon and Somerset Police identified 40 potential victims last year, with charities and local authorities helping to find an additional 44 victims,” Mrs Owen said.

“But because these crimes are often hidden in plain sight, they require the input and information from the community.”

Modern slavery is an umbrella term for several types of crime involving exploitation, including sexual abuse and forced prostitution, forced labour through intimidation or blackmail, child slavery, forced criminality such as county lines drug dealing, domestic servitude and forced marriages.

“A lot of it is knowing what to look for,” Mrs Owen explained.

“In March, plain clothed police officers and cadets aged between 14 and 16 visited several hotels in Bridgwater and would attempt to book a room without identification and requesting to pay in cash.

“Of the 13 hotels to receive an unannounced visit, ten agreed to let out a room without asking any questions.

“The venues were offered further training giving guidance of spotting child sexual exploitation.”

The Hidden Voices team explained that the people most at risk were those vulnerable in society, such as people reliant on foodbanks, the homeless, illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, children excluded from school and those with mental health difficulties.

The group said Bridgwater has all the factors that are prime for modern slavery with the social upheaval and big population changes the town is going through, areas of high deprivation and the types of industry often associated with modern slavery.

They said although they were not able to give details, there had been cases in Bridgwater and the surrounding area.

PCC Sue Mountstevens said: “The signs are not always obvious. It could be someone or a group of people being picked up regularly at odd times.

“But the thing is, you know your streets and you know when something looks or feels wrong.”

For more about Hidden Voices visit, and for guidance on spotting modern slavery, visit