By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, Feb 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of Britain's most senior police officers was on Friday appointed the country's new anti-slavery chief, about 10 months after the inaugural commissioner resigned expressing frustration about government interference in his role.
Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) since 2015, will take up the position on a three-year contract in May, Britain's interior ministry (Home Office) said.
Kevin Hyland was appointed as the inaugural independent anti-slavery commissioner in 2014 as part of Britain's landmark Modern Slavery Act, but he resigned last May and left the post in August, saying his work been hindered by government meddling.
Hyland was widely hailed for helping to champion the world-first law and pushing the United Nations to adopt a target to end slavery by 2030 among a set of global goals agreed in 2015.
"Good progress has been made in recent years and I am committed to build on that and do what I can to consign this crime to history," Thornton said in a statement.
Thornton came under fire while chief constable of Thames Valley police in southern England for the force's handling of a major child sex abuse scandal, for which she later apologised.
Britain's interior minister, Sajid Javid, said Thornton would provide "valuable insight and advice" as the commissioner.
"The fact modern slavery still exists in the shadows of our communities is totally unacceptable," he said in a statement.
Thornton will be expected to push for better identification and protection of victims, drive efforts to prevent slavery and trafficking, work with companies to push for slavery-free supply chains, and cooperate with other nations, the Home Office said.
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, two sources told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in December.
Lawmakers urged the government in December to scrap its search for a new anti-slavery chief and address concerns about the independence of the role before readvertising.
"Despite concerns over the lack of independence of the role, we hope that the new commissioner will be able to fully hold the government to account," Jakub Sobik, spokesman for the charity Anti-Slavery International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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.
The nation is home to about 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.
About 7,000 suspected victims of slavery were uncovered in Britain last year, up a third on 2017, according to data that activists said this month raised concerns about the government's ability to support a growing number of survivors. (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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