Human traffickers are using hotels and guest houses across the Lake District as “pop-up brothels” offering access to prostitutes during weekend stays, police have said.
Crime gangs have trafficked refugees to use as illegal sex workers – some underage – and block-booked hotel rooms in Barrow and across the south lakes, according to a local force.
There have been reports of temporary brothels in Kendal and it is understood that police have recently shut down three at Barrow hotels. Officers said the crime gangs are exploiting “human misery for financial gain”.
According to police, the gangs book accommodation for a weekend and bring sex workers up from Manchester or Liverpool to offer services in the rural area. The dates are then advertised online and the women are visited by a number of men over a period of two to three days.
DCI Nick Coughlan of Cumbria police said most of the women involved are victims of human trafficking who have been forced into prostitution.
Officers from the force are now being offered training to recognise the signs of modern slavery and sexual exploitation in a bid to stop the gangs establishing a “foothold” in Cumbria..
Coughlan said: “What we often find is there will be a booking made online through a reputable website.
“They will then turn up and pay with cash rather than credit or debit cards, which are traceable. They won’t arrive as a gang – often the men will come in on their own at first.
“If it’s a pop-up brothel, then two or three girls will be brought up, sometimes by men, sometimes by older women.”
One landlady in Barrow who did not want to be named said she was shocked when she found prostitutes were using her property. She told the North-West Evening Mail that she trawled through CCTV at her guest house and she now has images of local men regularly visiting prostitutes.
“We have such a high density of B&Bs, apartments and hotels in Cumbria and find it hard to believe it’s not happening more widely,” said Coughlan.
Hoteliers, apartment owners and cleaners were being asked to be vigilant and report anything unusual to the police.
Coughlan said: “Our first priority is to safeguard the victims, who have often come from poor conditions, in parts of Eastern Europe for example, and are being forced into these things against their will.
“Our second priority is criminal prosecution for the traffickers. However, the victims are often badly intimidated and customers don’t want to go to court, so we need other evidential opportunities and public support.”
The women involved in the raids on the guest houses and hotels in Barrow have not been prosecuted but treated as victims and offered help by police and other organisations.