As part of our ongoing series looking at modern slavery, Investigative Reporter AASMA DAY went out with police officers and immigration officials on visits to spread the message about human trafficking.
The sight of a man running down the street while wearing a pair of wellies with a panicked look on his face was the image seen by police and immigration officials when they descended on a Lancashire car wash.
All this week, police officers across Lancashire are carrying out visits to various premises across the county including massage parlours, car washes and takaways to give people a better understanding about what modern slavery and human trafficking is.
When the team turned up at Longton Hand Car Wash on Station Road, Little Hoole, near Preston, they found two Afghan workers, one of who quickly fled from the scene after spotting the police.
However, police officers gave chase and soon caught up with the fugitive and immigration officials discovered both men were illegal immigrants.
Det Insp Keith Lee, intelligence manager at Preston Police, says: “When the police and immigration team arrived at the car wash, one member of staff ran off.
“Police caught up with him and it was discovered he was an illegal imigrant from Afghanistan.
“Another member of staff was arrested as well for immigration offences. He had sought asylum and not been granted it but had got asylum in Austria.
“One of the men admitted he was smuggled into the country after arriving at Calais by boat.
“One of the men is in custody awaiting deportation to Afghanistan and the other is at a holding centre waiting to be sent to Austria.
“However, the purpose of this operation is not to persecute people but to highlight the different types of exploitation including sexual, forced labour and domestic servitude.”
The Evening Post spoke to Dhiaa Ilia, who is a friend of the owner of Longton Hand Car Wash and was looking after the premises at the time of the police and immigration visit.
He told us: “The owner is on holiday but I have called him to come back.
“We had no idea these people were here illegally.
“One of the men had been working here for a few weeks and he told the boss that he had permission to work in this country.
“We kept asking him to bring in his paperwork as evidence and had told him this week was his last week to bring it or he would lose his job.
“The other man was not working here but was just helping out. When the police came, he ran away and I did not know why.”
The Evening Post joined police and immigration on a couple of visits to car washes including Crystal Clean on Aqueduct Street, Preston.
The owner was initially perturbed when police and immigration swooped on his premises and wanted them to move their vans as he was worried the reputation of his business would be affected.
However, when police and immigration explained they were on an exercise to highlight trafficking, he became quite jovial and co-operative and showed immigration officials all the relevant paperwork.
While immigration made calls to check out the background of the foreign workers at the premises, police officers chatted to staff to make sure they were not working there under duress.
The ID and immigration status of everyone checked out fine and police officers seemed happy that no -one was being forced to work there. One officer said of the Romanian worker he had been chatting to: “He seemed a nice bloke who is working hard to make a new life for himself.
“He was telling me that back in Romania, the cost of living is very similar to the UK, but they only earn around £200 a month.
“He said that a can of coke costs around £1 in Romania, but cigarettes are cheaper than they are in the UK.”
After leaving this car wash, we were back in the police car and headed to the Tesco store in Chorley where we paid a visit to the Tesco Chorley Hand Car Wash.
Immigration officials checked the names, dates of birth and immigration status of all the workers and everyone checked out fine and there were no offenders.
One immigration official explains: “We are brought in because we have a close working relationship with polices forces.
“This is a targeted police operation and they have asked our organisation to help them by checking the immigration status of people.
“Our role is to look at who is employed at the premises and if they are foreign, check their status and see if they are entitled to work here.”
During the course of the week, police officers also targeted premises in Preston including takeaways and brothels to check out the status of employees and make sure no one was being forced to work agains their will.
Posters and leaflets have also been distributed in shops, places of worship, community centres and other public places alerting people to the signs and symtoms of modern slavery.
The posters state: “Are you being forced to work when you don’t want to? Do you have to pay someone money to give you work?
“Are you being forced to live in accommodation against your will?
“Is someone controlling your identity documents or bank account?
“Is someone threatening or intimidating you or your family?”
As well as spreading the message in English, there are posters featuring translations in Polish, Slovakian, Hungarian, Romanian, Albanian, Latvian, Croation and Chinese.