Northern Ireland

PSNI studying BBC Northern Ireland sex trade documentary

Lisa surprised by BBC reporter Andy Pag
Image caption An investigation by BBC News NI's Andy Pag confronted the manager of a Belfast brothel recruiting undocumented Asian women to work in the sex trade

Police have said they are studying a BBC documentary that uncovered how young Asian women are being recruited to work in the sex trade in Belfast.

The investigation uncovered a brothel luring undocumented Asian women to the city.

It found the women were being promised work to pay off people smugglers.

Justice Minister David Ford said the extension of the National Crime Agency to NI should help to stop people being trafficked into the sex trade.

Mr Ford said the NCA will have greater powers and resources than the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

'International reach'

The BBC investigation exposed how women were being recruited to work as prostitutes in Belfast through a classified newspaper advert in the UK China Times.

An undercover reporter, who replied to the advert as part of the investigation, was offered sex work by the Belfast brothel manager, who introduced herself as Lisa.

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Media captionJustice Minister David Ford said the National Crime Agency will help stop the sex trade

Lisa told the reporter that she keeps half of the earnings of the prostitutes she recruits.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Mr Ford said people trafficking into the sex trade was causing "major problems across Europe".

"I think the authorities are doing what they can but clearly the PSNI has limited resources and is not particularly in a position to follow up matters which clearly originated in Great Britain to the Chinese press there.

"One of the key issues there is to see that, using particularly the resources of a body like the National Crime Agency, which has the international reach to see the source countries working alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as the ability to co-ordinate across different regions of the UK.

"When we get the NCA fully operational in Northern Ireland in a few months time I hope that will help," Mr Ford added.

Oversight mechanisms

The NCA was introduced in the rest of the UK in 2013, but its powers have been limited in Northern Ireland due to nationalist politicians' concerns over its accountability.

However, following a new agreement on oversight mechanisms, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) agreed to support the extension of the NCA's full powers to Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin retains its objection to the move, but SDLP's change of position means the NCA will be fully operational in Northern Ireland within the coming months.

'Underground'

Northern Ireland recently became the first part of the UK to make buying sex a crime, following legislation brought before Stormont by the Democratic Unionist Party peer, Lord Morrow.

Lord Morrow told BBC Radio Ulster: "What my bill is designed to do primarily is to support victims of human trafficking and there are in the bill measures to support those who have been exploited.

"That was what the purpose and the drive of my bill was, and for those who try to say that this might in some way drive it further underground, I just fail to understand that , because quite frankly, this type of activity is already underground."

The BBC Radio Ulster documentary - Vice Girl or Victim - is available on the BBC iPlayer.

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