A police and council operation which saw unlicensed gangmasters from Wisbech bought to justice for exploiting workers has won a top award
Operation Pheasant won the title of ‘Partnership of the Year’ at a ceremony in London on Wednesday evening (March 11).
Op Pheasant was launched in early 2013 to tackle the complex issues of migrant exploitation, illegal gangmasters and poor conditions in private rented housing in Fenland, particularly in Wisbech.
It also resulted in the launch of Operation Endeavour, the police and Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)-led inquiry that resulted in two Latvian men, Juris Valujevs, 36, and Ivars Mezals, 28, being convicted of acting as unlicensed gangmasters in December.
As well as the police and Fenland District Council, Pheasant has involved HM Revenue and Customs, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
Last year it beat off competition from all over the country to win two awards at the annual Municipal Journal Achievement Awards.
Operation Pheasant is a great example of how different agencies can work together on a very complex social issue and get results.Chief Inspector Mick Hills
The LGC award recognises partnerships that have undertaken innovative and sustainable work to successfully address local challenges.
Fenland Commander, Chief Inspector Mike Hills, said: “Operation Pheasant is a great example of how different agencies can work together on a very complex social issue and get results.
“It uncovered crimes that we didn’t know were happening and resulted in two convictions at the end of last year. There are people who are willing to exploit others for their own gain, housing them in poor conditions and subjecting them to debt bondage. Our work with all the other agencies involved is committed to eliminating this exploitation.”
The force was also highly commended at the awards for its proactive work with Peterborough City Council to tackle child sexual exploitation in Peterborough.
Op Erle, a proactive investigation, was launched in January 2013 after it was suspected young girls were being sexually exploited in the city. Since then, nine men and boys have been jailed for a total of 101 years and nine months.
The work included gaining the girls’ trust so that they felt able to share details of their experiences, supporting them through the investigations and trials, and providing support long-term to allow them to continue with their lives.
Detective Superintendent Gary Ridgway, head of the force’s Public Protection Department, said: “This was a very proud moment for the team which recognised what agencies can achieve if we genuinely work together.
“Local authority children and adult services, police, NSPCC, Local Safeguarding Board members, health services and community and education leads all put the needs of young people first, listening to what they were telling us and demonstrating true determination to tackle this horrible form of abuse.
“I hope young people hearing about this award will be even more reassured of our commitment to help them should they be affected by sexual exploitation.”