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24 July 2019, 17:24 | Updated: 24 July 2019, 17:29
Three people have been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking after a major operation targeting a suspected organised crime group this morning (24th July).
Five addresses in Luton were searched as part of the work led by Bedfordshire Police, Luton Council and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
At around 5am, police executed a warrant in New Bedford Road.
Two men in their 20s and another man in his 30s were arrested on suspicion of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
Soon afterwards, Luton Council executed warrants under the Housing Act at properties in Ashton Road, Colin Road and Fermor Crescent.
Officers identified a number of serious defects at each property and the Council’s investigations are continuing.
Police then also carried out a further search at another address in Surrey Street.
The warrants follow an investigation into a suspected organised crime group believed to be trafficking people into the UK and forcing them into work.
The operation was also supported by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit and the National Crime Agency, with more than 60 officers and staff involved from all the different agencies.
Detective Inspector Katie Dounias, who led the operation, said:
“This has truly been a partnership effort aimed at dismantling what we believe to be a large and sophisticated criminal enterprise.
We know that people who are brought into the UK without speaking very good English or with very little understanding of British culture are particularly at risk of being exploited by organised crime.
Our efforts today have helped secure a large amount of key evidence we need to progress our investigation.
We really do need the public’s help in tackling this kind of financial exploitation. If you identify a potentially vulnerable person who has limited freedom to travel, doesn’t have their own documents such as their passport, or lives in poor conditions, please do report it.”
Councillor Tom Shaw, portfolio holder for housing at Luton Council, said:
“This morning’s actions clearly demonstrate Luton’s Rogue Landlord Project continuing its campaign to ensure people are not made to live in squalid and hazardous accommodation.
The project, a joint initiative between the Council, Fire Service, Police and Citizens Advice Luton, combats illegal HMOs and ensures unscrupulous landlords do not take financial advantage of vulnerable tenants and place their lives in danger.
We will not hesitate to prosecute landlords who show a disregard for the law and their responsibilities towards occupants. We would encourage anyone who suspects a property may be an unlicensed HMO to contact us immediately.”
GLAA director of operations Ian Waterfield added:
“Working in partnership is crucial to protect vulnerable workers and stop criminals exploiting people for their labour.
We were pleased to work with Bedfordshire Police, Luton Council and all the other agencies involved to disrupt this suspected organised criminality.
We would encourage the public to be aware of the signs of modern slavery and labour exploitation. More importantly, if you suspect something either call the police or our intelligence team on 0800 4320804.”
Anyone can report concerns around modern slavery to police on 101 or via the online reporting centre on the Bedfordshire Police website.
People can also contact the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700.
Reports about landlord issues can also be submitted via the Luton Council website.