Picture: 123RF/ARTIT OUBKAEW
Picture: 123RF/ARTIT OUBKAEW

London — One of Britain's most senior police officers is to be appointed the country's new antislavery chief almost nine months after the inaugural commissioner resigned citing government interference.

Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council since 2015, will take up the role later this year, the The Times newspaper reported on Sunday.

Britain's home office said it could not confirm the appointment, and that a candidate would be “announced shortly”. Thornton could not be reached for comment.

A source with knowledge of the situation said  that Thornton’s name had been “heard on the grapevine” but no appointment has been confirmed.

Kevin Hyland was appointed as the inaugural independent antislavery commissioner in 2014 as part of Britain’s landmark Modern Slavery Act, but he resigned last May and left the post in August, saying he had been frustrated by government meddling.

Hyland was widely hailed for helping to champion the world-first law and pushing the UN to adopt a target to end slavery by 2030 among a set of global goals agreed in 2015.

Britain’s push to be the world leader in tackling slavery has been “thwarted” by the delay in replacing Hyland, which has hindered policy advances and scrutiny of the government, sources said in December.

The home office has advertised twice for the role — a three-year contract with a salary of up to £140,000.

Britain was in December urged by legislators to scrap its search for a new antislavery chief and address concerns about the independence of the role before readvertising.

In a government-ordered review of the law, three politicians said they were worried by reports that Hyland had not been free to criticise Britain’s antislavery efforts and the job advertisement for his successor raised doubts about the role’s independence.

Britain announced in July it would review its 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, drive big businesses to stop forced labour or support victims.

Campaigners said the new antislavery chief should ensure Britain’s approach to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking goes far beyond just relying on law enforcement.

“Finding victims should be the last step. Stopping people becoming them in the first place should be the core part of any sensible antislavery plan,” said Emily Kenway, a senior adviser for the charity Focus on Labour Exploitation.

“This means reducing outsourcing, ensuring migrant workers have access to public money, introducing joint liability which makes the top of a supply chain responsible for the abuse lower down,” said Kenway, formerly a staffer with Hyland's office.

Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation — a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013.

Thomson Reuters Foundation