Mark Townsend

October 17, 2011

On the morning of 15 March Joy Vincent left Croydon’s Gilroy Court Hotel, and then she disappeared. No one knows what happened next: whom she met, where she was taken, whether she even went left or right. She had no family, no apparent friends, no one whom the 17-year-old could trust.

Little is known about Joy. All we have is a handful of biographical snippets from her brief interviews with police and social services. Conducted in broken English – her first language is Edo – they explain that she was born on 13 July 1993 into the poverty of rural Nigeria. It was a far-from-innocent childhood. “Her parents attempted to sell her to an 85-year-old man whom she did not know,” one transcript read.

Despite the austere language of the documents – a summation of police case notes leaked to the Observer – they portray a resourceful, determined but acutely vulnerable figure. They chronicle Joy’s escape to another Nigerian town where she survived by selling newspapers on the street. There, she met the man who would change her life. From the documents it is evident the character, referred to only as Steve, is a human trafficker.

He promised Joy a new life in Europe. “She agreed and got on a plane with him,” reads a police entry. Aged 14, she entered the UK, but the UK Borders Agency has no documentation of her arrival. For the first three years of Joy’s life in England there is absolutely no record of her existence.

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