The Crown Prosecution Service said foreign women were being sold as sex workers as soon as they arrived, and police are appealing to men who frequent brothels to contact them in confidence if they believe the prostitutes may be there against their will.
In one instance a slave auction took place outside a coffee shop in the arrivals hall of London-Gatwick airport, and it is believed similar auctions have taken place at airports across the country.
The arrivals-lounge auction was one of several "airport crimes" due to be examined at a Crown Prosecution Service conference yesterday. Others include children abandoned in baggage reclaim areas with no identity papers, "distraction" thefts and pick-pocketing by criminals working in teams, and burglaries by criminals who read the addresses on baggage labels and break in on the likelihood that homes will be empty.
A Home Office report five years ago estimated that the number of victims of human trafficking in Britain was 1400. But the present figure could be double that, said Tim Brain, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, who heads Operation Pentameter, a multi-agency task force set up in February to combat trafficking.
The prosecution service conference coincides with criticisms levelled at the Government by children's charities, who believe its response to the trafficking of children is "completely inadequate". "There is no co-ordination of trafficking crime units. There is an ad hoc approach across the country," said Christine Beddoe, the director of a coalition of children's charities called End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking. "There is a total inadequacy in social services support … no guidance and training for health workers in knowing how to identify a trafficked child."