Police, backed up by officers from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Immigration Enforcement and by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), have visited five car washes in Cleveland after concerns were raised about modern day slavery.

The sites were targeted by members of Cleveland Police’s VEMT (vulnerable, exploited, missing, trafficked) team after 50 reports were made through the ‘Safe Car Wash’ app, detailing concerns about conditions in the Cleveland force area.

Officers didn’t find any safeguarding issues during the visits to the sites – three in Middlesbrough, one in Hartlepool and one in the Stockton – but action was taken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at two Middlesbrough car washes.

One person was found to be working illegally by Immigration Enforcement.

Cleveland Police’s detective superintendent Lisa Theaker, head of protecting vulnerable people, said: “We are grateful to people for sharing their concerns and will always act on information.

“There were no immediate safeguarding issues for us but action was taken by partners. We will continue to work with our partners to build intelligence and to detect and disrupt modern day slavery.”

An HSE spokesperson said: “HSE, along with partner agencies, has conducted an operation in Cleveland in relation to the operation of car washes to ensure the safety, health and welfare of both the people working there and its customers.

“Issues were found at two of the car washes visited relating to the electrical systems and equipment being used and enforcement action was taken to prevent injury or death.”

GLAA senior investigating officer Dave Powell said: “Hand car washes are visible in our communities and while many operate lawfully, others hide exploitation which can include non-payment of the national minimum wage, unsafe living and working conditions, and even physical violence.”