Four Held In Essex Charity Theft Raids

Four men have been questioned after police raids in Essex and east London on a criminal gang suspected of stealing second-hand clothes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to UK charities.

Thirty officers raided a warehouse believed to be the hub of an international criminal network in Rainham on Thursday.

Two Lithuanian men were arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation and money laundering, and £20,000 in cash was seized, along with charity bags and computers.

Two more men were arrested at properties in east London and Essex shortly after the raid. All four men have been released on bail.

City of London Police Commander Ian Dyson said: "Charity bag fraud is a serious criminal threat, stealing millions of pounds from those who help the most vulnerable in society, both at home and abroad.

"Investigating this type of criminality is a major priority for the City of London Police and those who continue to offend should expect our officers to come calling sometime soon.''

Charity bag fraud is estimated to cost the voluntary sector up to £50 million each year.

Paul Amadi, director of fundraising at the NSPCC children's charity, is urging the public to keep donating their clothes to charities despite the thefts.

He said: "The theft of charity clothes bags not only takes away valuable funds from the NSPCC, it damages the public's confidence to donate in these challenging economic times.''

Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, who will give a keynote speech at a meeting of charities next week on the issue of charity bag theft, said: ``The City of London Police are doing a great job making sure the criminals who prey on good will and starve charities of millions of pounds face the consequences.''