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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
19 held in people smuggling probe
Picture from lorry x-ray machine similar to those based at Dover and Calais
Lorry x-ray machines would have shown passengers, police say
An alleged multi-million pound people-smuggling racket believed to have brought thousands of people into the UK has been smashed, say police.

Nineteen people were arrested after dawn raids in London and Lincolnshire as part of a crackdown on the alleged smuggling of Turkish Kurds into the UK.

Eight of the 19 were arrested on suspicion of involvement in aiding people smuggling, said police.

Operation Bluesky has involved officers across six European countries.

Detectives from Italy, Holland, France, Belgium and Denmark have all taken part along with the Metropolitan Police.

This is the biggest operation of its kind that the Metropolitan Police has been involved in so far
Det Chief Supt Bill Skelly

The network is thought to have brought people to Britain, in groups of up to 20 a time, concealed in cars, vans, lorries and aircraft.

The illegal immigrants, smuggled in from the Kurdish areas of Turkey, pay between 3,000 and 5,000 for journeys which often take months, said police.

The journeys involve being passed on to gang members in several European countries and staying at safe houses before being smuggled into the UK in cramped conditions.

Many of the immigrants find low-paid, black market menial jobs in north London's Turkish community.

The alleged racket is thought to have made millions of pounds for its ringleaders with some of that money being invested in businesses like cafes and snooker halls.

An unidentified man is led out of an address in Welling, London
An unidentified man is led out of an address in Welling, London

Det Chief Supt Bill Skelly said the investigation was part of a wider international operation.

"This is the biggest operation of its kind that the Metropolitan Police has been involved in so far," he told BBC News.

"This operation is the culmination of 20 other arrests and operations which have taken place throughout Europe over the last two years."

"Typically people who are charged are charged with offences of illegal immigration and receive custodial sentences which can range from two to three years up to ten years."

European investigation

Eighteen people were arrested in raids on 12 residential and business addresses in London and a 19th man was arrested at a residential address in Boston, Lincolnshire.

Police said the racket's suspected ringleaders were among the 19 detainees.

Eight men were arrested on suspicion of aiding people smuggling.

A further six people were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences, two on suspicion of interfering with the inquiry, two on suspicion of theft and one on suspicion of money-laundering offences.

More than 200 officers were involved in the London raids at addresses in Enfield, Bexleyheath, Barnet, Hackney, Hammersmith, Haringey and Tower Hamlets.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said the raids had been aimed at those "right at the top of this network".

The racket had mainly targeted people from the Kurdish areas of Turkey with the promise of a better life, he said.

"Once here some of these people get into low-paid jobs, others are clearly left to their own devices to find work," he added.




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