11 arrested in raids by the Serious Crime Directorate for money laundering, theft and people trafficking
11 people were arrested yesterday (Wednesday 15 December 2010), following a two year investigation by officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate into an organised criminal network believed to be involved in human trafficking, theft, fraud and money laundering.
A series of dawn raids were carried out at 12 premises across the East Kent area, mostly in the Canterbury and Thanet areas. 11 people were arrested for conspiracy to launder money, people trafficking and fraud.
Those arrested include:
A 40 year old man from Surrey
A 29 year old man from Canterbury
A 29 year old woman from Canterbury
A 31 year old woman from Canterbury
A 30 year old man from Canterbury
A 36 year old man from Thanet
A 30 year old man from Thanet
A 31 year old man from Thanet
A 22 year old man from Thanet
A 23 year old man from Thanet
A 27 year old man from Thanet
All have now been released from police custody pending further investigation.
A woman from Surrey is also being dealt with by the UK Border Agency in connection with immigration offences.
A number of searches were carried out and items seized included a large quantity of cash and paperwork and documents including passports and identity papers.
In addition to the arrests, police also went to several addresses where victims were living and 19 people were then taken to a multi-agency reception centre in Canterbury where they have been offered support and advice. The reception centre was set up by Kent County Council and the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust and included representatives from a number of key services including healthcare, social services and housing, the UK Border Agency, the Migrant Helpline and the UK Human Trafficking Centre. In addition, a number of translators were on hand to assist the victims in their native languages, including Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrea Bishop, from the Serious Organised Crime team of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said of this operation:
"This is the culmination of a detailed and complex two year investigation by officers from our Serious Economic Crime Unit into an organised criminal network operating in Kent who are involved in a number of criminal enterprises including human trafficking, fraud and money laundering. These criminals prey on and exploit migrant workers, effectively running a modern day slavery operation.
"A key part of the work we have done over the last few days is to work with a number of partner agencies to help victims break the grip this gang has on them, and we are giving them all the help and support they need so they can rebuild their lives free from this tyranny.
"The work does not stop here. My investigative teams will continue processing all the new evidence we have obtained and we will work with the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies to ensure anyone involved in this organised criminality will be prosecuted to the full force of the law."
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Pughsley, who leads the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said:
"This operation is part of our ongoing commitment to tackling those criminals causing the most harm in our communities, and comes only a week after 129 other criminals were arrested across Kent and Essex as part of a dedicated Day of Action by the Serious Crime Directorate.
"We are sending out a clear message that we will not tolerate criminals operating in our communities. We are listening and responding to what local residents are telling us concerns them the most, and are tackling criminality at all levels, from organised criminal networks like the one involved in this operation, to those involved in burglary and other theft-related crime, those who handle stolen goods, and those who use, deal and supply drugs which can often fuel all other types of offending.
"The Serious Crime Directorate is working closely with our police colleagues across all parts of Kent and Essex to provide intelligence and support to target and tackle anyone involved in serious criminality in our neighbourhoods, from home-grown criminal networks within our own communities, to criminals who travel into Kent and Essex to commit offences, and those that come from abroad to commit crime on our shores. We also have a duty to protect all the citizens of Kent and Essex, wherever they may originally be from and to ensure they live lives free from exploitation and fear.
"We will continue to target anyone who commits crime in Kent and Essex in ongoing pro-active operations over the coming months. The message we are sending out is don't commit crime in Kent and Essex because we will catch you and bring you to justice."
Chief Inspector Steve Barlow, who leads the policing teams across the Canterbury district said:
"This large-scale operation has been the culmination of months of complex work by police and a variety of agencies and organisations to identify a network of individuals believed to be involved in a range of criminal activity, stretching across the South East and into Europe. Specialist teams came to East Kent this week and significant arrests have been made.
"The work does not end here. As well as the criminal cases to pursue, there are a number of people, believed to have been the victims of exploitation, who will require help and support from here on in.
"It is disconcerting when criminal activity of this nature is revealed in the community. However, I want to assure the people of East Kent that we are in a position where it is very difficult for criminals to operate in this manner without coming to our attention and we will continue to deal with them in the strongest possible terms."
Darryl Dixon, Director of Strategy for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, whose officers were closely involved in this operation, said:
"The GLA was set up to identify and tackle worker exploitation in the agricultural industry, and it is an offence to supply labour without a licence. Unlicensed labour providers are investigated to identify if they are exploiting workers. Often overseas workers may not even know they are being exploited. The GLA will therefore determine if they are,
and pursue unlicensed activity through to prosecution."
Specialist officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency's Vulnerable Persons Team were utilised as they are experienced in interviewing trafficking victims. The team is also working closely with the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate and other partner agencies to manage victim care and welfare issues. Officers from the UK Human Trafficking Centre also provided tactical advice and support to this operation.