Thirteen people in Peterborough have been arrested in connection with exploitation offences following a series of dawn raids.
The police, Peterborough City Council and National Crime Agency (NCA) led operation, named Operation Launch, began at 4am today (Tuesday) and also involved the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), the British Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
Victims are often promised a better life in the UK with well-paid work but often end up in over-crowded accommodation and immediately placed in debt to a criminal who controls their affairsSuperintendent Tony Ixer
Operation Launch is the Peterborough-led response to Operation Mustily, an on-going NCA investigation into people trafficking and enforced labour of Slovakian nationals within the UK, which sees involvement from a number of other forces across the country.
In total about 300 police and partner agency officers and staff were involved in the activity in Peterborough which saw raids and arrests at 20 properties across the city.
The people arrested, eight men and seven women, have all been taken to Thorpe Wood Police Station.
Two other men were also arrested, one on suspicion of rape and another on warrant.
Officers engaged with a total of 46 potential victims, 20 of which, including six children, have been removed from the properties and taken to a reception centre, facilitated by Peterborough City Council, while further enquiries are carried out.
Peterborough Commander, Superintendent Tony Ixer, said: “Our priority has been, and always will be, to protect members of the public from harm. We are committed to working with partner agencies to tackle human trafficking and we are targeting those who gain from others’ suffering.
“Victims are often promised a better life in the UK with well-paid work but often end up in over-crowded accommodation and immediately placed in debt to a criminal who controls their affairs.
“They are generally deceived as to the type of work they’ll be doing, the conditions of it and the pay they receive.
“They are paid wages well below the legal minimum for extremely long hours and their pay is often taken to service debt on their accommodation.
“Victims are often too frightened to come forward and reluctant to seek help from authorities. However, I would urge anyone who feels they are being exploited or has any concerns about individuals to contact police.”
Adrian Chapman, service director for adult services and communities at Peterborough City Council said: “Council officers are supporting Cambridgeshire Police on a major operation against the trafficking and exploitation of foreign nationals in Peterborough.
“The city council’s primary role is now to provide care to the alleged trafficking victims. The council is in charge of running a reception centre - and teams from our social work, housing needs and emergency planning departments are providing support.
“As soon as people arrive at the centre they are given food and drink and taken for a medical assessment. Sleeping and washing facilities have also been provided. Council staff and those from other agencies are speaking with individuals to help provide for their future needs.
“The care and wellbeing of these alleged victims is our number one priority.”
Caroline Young, Deputy Director of the National Crime Agency’s Organised Crime Command, said: “Today’s coordinated activity highlights the close collaboration between the National Crime Agency, local police forces, the Gangmasters Licencing Authority, regional Organised Crime Units and other UK partners, as well as our international partners, Europol and the Slovakian police, to investigate labour exploitation and human trafficking within the UK.
“These close working relationships help us to tackle the organised crime groups who think they can exploit people for profit. We will continue to work together, sharing intelligence and knowledge to hold offenders to account and safeguard victims.”
A 48-year-old woman, a 41-year-old man, a 23-year-old woman, a 36-year-old man, a 45-year-old man, and a 32-year-old man, all from Star Road, Peterborough, a 51-year-old woman, from Elmfield Road, Peterborough, a 34-year-old man, from Rock Road, Peterborough, a 36-year-old woman, from Harris Street, Peterborough, a 20-year-old woman, from Star Road, Peterborough, a 17-year-old boy, from Star Road, Peterborough, a 27-year-old woman, from Star Road, Peterborough and a 35-year-old woman, from Harris Street, Peterborough were all arrested on suspicion of trafficking offences
A 23-year-old man, from Ratcliff Court, Peterborough was arrested on a warrant, and a 60-year-old man, from Ratcliffe Court, Peterborough was arrested on suspicion of rape.
They have all been taken to Thorpe Wood Police Station for questioning.