COUNCILLORS in Lye say they fear human trafficking and modern day slavery is going on in plain sight in the town and they are urging for action to tackle the problem.

Members of the public also spoke out with their concerns at Tuesday's community forum meeting at Withymoor Primary School after Cradley and Wollescote councillor Tim Crumpton called called on residents to tell what they've been experiencing in the town, which has over the last two years become home to a large Roma community of up to around 400.

Residents have reported seeing people scavenging in bins and one woman told how she'd been approached by three women, speaking in broken English, who demanded she give them her shoes.

She refused and claims one of the women told her she would be "dead by the end of the week".

Another resident Carolanne Lello told how her young daughter accidentally dropped a small teddy on the floor and within seconds it had been snatched by a woman lurking nearby.

Meanwhile, Graham Dimmock - who has lived in Lye for many years - said an elderly woman he knows has been left too scared to use the cash machine in the High Street and he added: "She's too frightened to walk on her own High Street. The public of Lye is being failed miserably. Somebody's got to get their act together and help us."

Another woman told of a little boy who'd been seen asking members of the public for £5 in the High Street and she said: "It's scary how many people are congregating, it's quite intimidating."

Cllr Crumpton said: "We believe slavery is taking place - and that people are being brought into the area by organised criminal gangs."

He said it is feared child prostitution is also taking place and he added: "We're frustrated as local councillors, we don't really know what to do. They've got three or four police to cover that area - how are they going to deal with these issues?"

But he stressed: "We want something done. It's destroying our community. We're fed up. We need to put pressure on our council, on the police and on the authorities to sit down and work out what we do about this."

Former mayor of Dudley, Councillor Mohammed Hanif, described the situation as "alarming and disturbing" - while Councillor Gaye Partridge said: "It beggars belief what's happening.

"Where you see groups of people gathering, they're waiting for work and it's not work for the minimum wage; we're allowing this to happen, it's happening in plain sight."

She said she requested a report from Dudley Council regarding what action it is taking to help people believed to be victims of modern slavery and human trafficking and she said: "The report that's come through is just not good enough. The local authority has to give an official response to what's going on and we have to bring an end this inhumane treatment of people. If what was happening to these people was happening to animals something would be done."

But she conceded the problem is "so complex" and added: "It's difficult to grasp the enormity of what's happening here."

At the end of the meeting members of the public gave a vote of no confidence in the report and councillors are now calling for a public debate on the problem as a matter of urgency and for a task force - comprising local authority representatives, police, agencies and local councillors - to be set up immediately.

Cllr Laura Taylor, Dudley's cabinet member responsible for community safety, said the authority was aware of the concerns raised at the community forum and added: "They have already been fully investigated by the council and the police and we have been unable to find any evidence of this kind of activity taking place in Lye.

"However, any allegations of this grave nature will always be taken very seriously so we would urge anyone with evidence to come forward to the police so that we can investigate further.

“We continue our work to raise awareness in our communities about serious crimes including modern slavery and sexual exploitation but we would again stress the importance for people to report any suspicions they may have to the police immediately.”

Meanwhile - an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Lye is believed to be linked to the problems in the town.

Public Health England confirmed members of its West Midlands Health Protection Team worked alongside local NHS partners and public health colleagues in the local authority to manage the outbreak of the Hepatitis A - a gastro-intestinal viral infection that affects the liver.

A spokesman said there were "a small number of confirmed cases in Lye" and Joanne Quigley, headteacher at Wollescote Primary School, issued a statement saying: “Several weeks ago we were made aware that two members of our school community had been diagnosed with the Hepatitis A infection.

“Whilst the investigation identified no link to the school, we worked closely with Public Health England and the local authority and followed their advice on the best course of action to reduce the risk of further infection."

Cllr Crumpton believes the outbreak stemmed from large numbers of people living together in cramped, unsanitary conditions and he told the meeting that 25 people had recently been discovered cohabiting in a tiny flat above a shop in Lye High Street - and he said: "With one toilet, no wonder there were unsanitary conditions."

Health bosses say Hepatitis A is uncommon in the UK, but certain groups are at increased risk - particularly those who travel to places with poor levels of sanitation and people who inject drugs.

Mrs Quigley said staff and students at Wollescote Primary have been reminded of the "importance of washing their hands, especially before eating and after going to the toilet" and she added: "

“We are confident the issue has been dealt with and we have no concerns moving forward.”

People can report any safeguarding concerns to the Access and Prevention Team on 0300 555 0055.

Information about criminal activity can also be reported to police on 999 (in an emergency) or 101, or anonymously via the Crimestoppers hotline on 0800 555 111.