Dame Sara Thornton welcomes HMICFRS report on law enforcement response to vulnerable people in county lines offending


The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has today welcomed the findings of a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) highlighting effective use of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 by police in countering county lines offending.

The HMICFRS report, Both sides of the coin: The police and National Crime Agency’s response to vulnerable people in ‘county lines’ drug offending, finds that prosecution of county lines perpetrators for modern slavery offences (as opposed to drug trafficking offences) acts as a deterrent to offenders, whilst use of the Act’s risk orders further disrupts offenders’ activities.

However, the report acknowledges challenges in using the Act’s section 45 statutory defence for victims of modern slavery, which respondents claim is open to abuse by some county lines offenders.


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

"I welcome this HMICFRS report examining the response of the police and the National Crime Agency towards vulnerable people involved in county lines offending.

Whilst an organised criminal gang might traffick their drugs inside the footwell of a car, county lines perpetrators are using children and vulnerable victims’ bodies to traffick their drugs. 

It is essential that police and prosecutors recognise county lines offenders who force their victims to carry drugs – often under the threat of extreme violence and intimidation – as perpetrators of modern slavery.

The Modern Slavery Act established a statutory defence to protect victims who have committed criminal offences as a direct result of their exploitation. There are cases where victims have not used this defence and been imprisoned and there are cases where criminals have attempted to abuse this defence.

My office will shortly be launching a call for evidence on where the Act’s section 45 statutory defence has been raised and addressed correctly, where this has been raised and not properly addressed, and where the defence should have been raised.

We will be inviting views from the widest of audiences across the whole criminal justice system and beyond with practical experience of using section 45, including lawyers, non-governmental organisations, statutory bodies and the police.”





  • Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
  • The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019.
  • Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.
  • Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act can be raised by those who, in the case of adults, have been compelled to commit an offence as a direct result of their being a victim of modern slavery, or in the case of a child, has done the criminal act as a direct result of being the victim of modern slavery.
  • HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing and fire and rescue services in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and fire and rescue services.



  • For press/media enquiries to the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, please contact the IASC Communications Officer Katherine Lawson Katherine.lawson@iasc.independent.gov.uk and 020 3513 0477
  • For general enquiries to the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, please contact iasc@iasc.independent.gov.uk and 020 3513 0475
  • For press/media enquiries to HMICFRS, please contact 020 3513 0600 (0800 – 1700 Mon-Fri) or 07836 217729 (out of hours)