British children are being forced into modern slavery in the UK as more potential victims are reported than ever before.

A total of 5,145 potential victims were referred into the system last year, an increase of 35 per cent on the year before, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) believes the number will continue to rise.

The largest group was British citizens (819, more than double the 326 referred in 2016), followed by Albanian and Vietnamese nationals.

The NCA said a rising number of British modern slaves are being reported because of police referring teenage victims exploited by criminal gangs.

Most are being used for sex or as drug mules by “county lines” groups that supply from urban centres into rural areas, often exploiting young and vulnerable people to distribute their product.