Twenty-seven potentially trafficked children were identified by the county council last year - and up to four then went missing from care.

The extent of Gloucestershire's illegal trade of children - which sees minors sexually exploited, forced to work or marry, and coerced into crime - has been revealed by a Freedom of Information request made by Unseen, a charity which runs a safehouse in the south west for victims of modern slavery.

The FoI to Gloucestershire County Council also disclosed that some of the children went missing from the council's care - once it has identified trafficked children, the council tries to place them into foster care, supported accommodation or childrens' homes.

This number is less than five, the council's FoI team told Unseen, though how many exactly was kept secret to prevent 'unintentionally identifying cases'.

Julie Rzezniczek, director of safeguarding and care at the county council, said: “Given that traffickers often promise children benefits or threaten children into co-operation, the key task is to engage children and young people and to divert them from these threats and promises.

“In the early stages of children’s services involvement, it is symptomatic of trafficking that some children will be drawn back to their traffickers and have gone missing on occasion.

"Keeping children and young people safe and well is our top priority.

"We work in conjunction with the police and other partner agencies to gather and use intelligence to safeguard the children and young people concerned.

"Our support services include diversionary outreach work, alternative care placements and a range of therapeutic interventions.

"The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is also used to ensure that victims of trafficking are not in themselves criminalised.”