Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Eight held over human trafficking

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The raids across Northamptonshire had been planned for months

Eight people suspected of human trafficking have been arrested in what is thought to be one of the largest operations of its kind in the UK.

Two hundred staff from nine agencies took part in Operation Ruby across Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire.

Police said 60 workers from Eastern Europe were being interviewed as victims of an operation run by a gang.

The workers were picking leeks in a field near Holbeach, Lincolnshire, when officers carried out the first raid.

A police spokeswoman said the men and woman, aged between 15 to 67, had been taken to Kettering, Northamptonshire, where they were being treated as potential witnesses and victims.

Houses searched

She said the operation aimed to disrupt an organised crime group thought to be exploiting workers.

Three men were arrested at the field near Holbeach on suspicion of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.

Human trafficking of any kind, whether for sexual or labour exploitation, is an appalling crime
Simon Excell, UK Border Agency

Officers also searched 21 houses in Kettering and across the Midlands as well as a business premises in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.

The spokeswoman said four men and a woman had also been arrested on suspicion of people trafficking and money laundering.

It centres on allegations that people were recruited through advertisements and agencies in Eastern Europe to travel to the UK on the promise of work.

'Co-ordinated operation'

When they arrived it is thought their documents were taken from them and a proportion of their wages was withheld to pay for housing and transport.

Det Supt Glyn Timmins, director of investigations at Northamptonshire Police, said the operation was the culmination of months of liaison, investigation and planning.

He said: "This has been a co-ordinated, large-scale operation as part of an investigation into the activities of what we believe is an organised crime group that has exploited people as cheap labour in fields across this region."

Simon Excell, UK Border Agency regional deputy director, added: "Human trafficking of any kind, whether for sexual or labour exploitation, is an appalling crime where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit."

Andy Baker, deputy director of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said the operation sent out a strong signal.

Gangmasters Licensing Authority officers look on as workers are interviewed
Officials look on as workers are interviewed during the operation

"It's actually putting down a stone that we are going to deal with these matters seriously - that we are going to ensure that the victims are protected and more importantly, we are going to disrupt the organised criminals involved in this.

"We're going to arrest them, bring them to justice and we will chase them for the money that they have got unlawfully, illegally and taken away from these people."

Mr Baker said the workers came to the UK legally, but were then exploited by gangs who took away their passports and paid them low wages.

The huge crackdown also involved the East Midlands Foreign National Crime Team, the UK Human Trafficking Centre, the UK Borders Agency, the Migrant Helpline, SOCA and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

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