Human traffickers may be putting up sex workers in Cumbrian bed-and-breakfast businesses before moving them on to pop-up brothels, say police.

Senior detectives have warned that "a significant" proportion of illegal moving of people nationally is being carried out under the guise of tourism.

They say the county is not immune from this, revealing Cumbria Police received more than 300 intelligence reports connected to modern slavery in the last year.

Officers were speaking as they urged business bosses and the public to look out for tell-tale signs that something suspicious may be going on.

They said it followed a number of instances when suspicions have been raised by landlords.

But these, crucially, had been after a tenant had moved on or when a paying guest left a hotel or B&B.

The force said it was strongly suspected at times that offences such as sex trafficking are happening.

However, victims are being shifted on before landlords or hoteliers realise what has happened.

Detective Superintendent Lesley Hanson said: "A significant proportion of trafficking is undertaken through travel and tourism businesses which, by their nature, facilitate the movement and accommodation of traffickers and their victims.
Detective Superintendent Lesley Hanson

"We know that pop-up brothels are set up across the county and there are victims forced into prostitution."

Modern slavery is any form of forced human exploitation for services, such as human trafficking of sex workers.

The force says there continues to be an increase in reporting.

But they believe there are numerous incidents happening that have not been identified.

In the last two years, 33 people have been helped by the force, officers said.

Det Supt Hanson added: "Those that are victims of modern slavery are subjected to some of the most horrific crimes imaginable.

"Some may hold the perception that these type of offences are unlikely to be happening in this county.

"This is simply incorrect; modern slavery and human trafficking can occur in any community, with victims feeling isolated."

She spelled out some of the thinking behind shining the spotlight on this type of crime.

Det Supt Hanson added: "As part of our efforts to raise awareness we are looking to inform private landlords and hoteliers of how those committing these offences often look to accommodate their victims in rented accommodation.

"I would ask any landlord, hotel or B&B staff to ensure they know exactly who is renting their premises and look out for the signs.

"If they have any concerns about the welfare of those living and working there, or suspicions about the financial arrangements, they should contact police.

"If we receive live information that there are potentially offences happening, we can make swift inquiries which can help end the pain and suffering for victims."

Staff at hotels and B&Bs are being asked to watch out for the following signs:

* Guests showing signs of injury, abuse or malnourishment;

* People appearing under the control and influence of others;

* People appearing scared, avoiding eye contact or seeming to be untrusting of others;

* Numerous visitors to the room they are booked into;

* Unusual check-in and check-out times;

* People having no identification documents and paying in cash only;

* Guests having a lack of belongings.

Crime Commisioner Peter McCall Cumbria's crime commissioner, Peter McCall, said: "Modern slavery is happening in Cumbria, no matter what people think.

"By targeting those that are likely to come into contact with victims and perpetrators, we hope we receive more evidence and intelligence."

Landlords are also being asked to pose themselves questions including:

* Do you know exactly who you are letting the property to - and who is living there?

* Is the person living there the same person who signed the tenancy agreement?

* Do the occupants change regularly?

Gary Murray, north west regional manager at Crimestoppers, added: "It is encouraging the police and ourselves are seeing a greater number of reports on this subject.

"It shows the public are now coming forward and reporting what was once a hidden crime."

Call police on 101, Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 - or the National Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.