Operation Makesafe Launched

2 March 2021

Wiltshire Police are inviting businesses to join them for a free online training course as they look to tackle child exploitation, which is happening in Swindon.

Operation Makesafe is a Wiltshire Police-led initiative focused on making sure that people working in the business sector are aware of the early warning signs of child exploitation and are confident to report their concerns to them so they can prevent any young person coming to harm.

It has been launched in Swindon this month, with the intention to roll it out across Wiltshire, amid concerns and local evidence that criminals are taking vulnerable children into legitimate businesses such as takeaways, gyms, barbers shops, clothes shops and places licensed to serve alcohol.

Wiltshire Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) have partnered with Swindon Borough Council, The Children's Society, Crimestoppers and inSwindon Bid in a collective response to empower businesses to protect their local community.

They will be offering three free online training sessions, which are taking place on Thursday 18 March, in support of National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, to any business in Swindon who signs up.

Insp Al Lumley, of the Central South Swindon Neighbourhood Policing team said: "Keeping young people in our communities safe is a role for everyone and we can do this more effectively when we work together and information is shared.

"It's an uncomfortable truth, but we know that young people are being exploited in Swindon. This is a great initiative that has concern for children's wellbeing at the heart of it.

"We know businesses are important hubs and can play a key role in disrupting this abuse and creating a safer community.

"Child exploitation isn't always easy to spot, but there are signs to look out for and this training will help all staff and be something that can continue to be used for all new starters to any business.

"Now is a perfect time for businesses to be checking what protocols they have in place to ensure they are safeguarding their community to the best of their ability and armed with this training will be confident to not only spot the signs of child exploitation, but also feel assured to report it, either to us on 101 or through Crimestoppers anonymously.

"I urge all businesses in Swindon to take this free opportunity and be equipped with the knowledge that could ultimately save a child from the nightmare of exploitation."

As well as the training sessions, businesses will be provided with campaign posters, training packs and follow-up support to raise awareness among their customers and staff thanks to funding provided by the OPCC and Wiltshire Police.

Wiltshire and Swindon's Police and Crime Commisioner Angus Macpherson said: "The ongoing pandemic and Covid restrictions have made children more vulnerable than ever, particularly due to the reduction in their contact with teachers and other youth leaders.

"Children are now increasingly being groomed and exploited using digital means, which can quickly escalate to forced criminality or sexual exploitation and I'm pleased to have been able to allocate funding to support this initiative.

"Safeguarding children is a responsibility that falls to each of us and I applaud the partnership approach to deliver this training to businesses in the Swindon area, with the expectation that we will see this run in other areas later this year."

The scheme is also being supported by Swindon Borough Council who are urging as many businesses in Swindon to sign up to this opportunity to help protect children in their community.

Councillor Cathy Martyn, Swindon Borough Council's Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, said: "Knowing the signs of child exploitation is crucial to keeping children in Swindon safe and preventing them from harm.

"Equipping our local businesses with the skills and tools they need to be able to spot these signs is incredibly important, particularly at a time when children are more at risk of potential harm due to the lack of normal routines and lack of interactions with teachers or other professionals.

"I would really encourage all businesses to take up the offer of this free training as it's everyone's responsibility to do all we can to look after vulnerable members of our community."

If you are a business interested in this training for you and your employees, you can sign up to one of three training sessions on the day HERE by simply selecting a time and registering.

If you have concerns that a child is at risk of exploitation, you should call 101 and quote 'Op Makesafe' or call CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111 where information can be left anonymously.

If you know or suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 999 straight away.