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A major operation believed to be the largest of its kind ever mounted in
the UK - was carried out yesterday to disrupt an organised crime group thought to be trafficking people into the UK for the purposes of labour exploitation.

More than 200 staff from nine organisations* including the East Midlands
Foreign National Crime Team, Northamptonshire Police, the UK Human
Trafficking Centre, the UK Borders Agency, Serious Organised Crime
Agency and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority have intervened at a
field near Holbeach in South Lincolnshire and arrested three men on
suspicion of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.
More than sixty men and women - migrant workers from countries across
Eastern Europe, including Poland and Lithuania - who were picking leeks
in the field as part of an organised gang have been taken back to
Kettering where they are being treated as potential witnesses and victims.
At the same time, police have searched 21 houses in Kettering and the
wider Midlands area as well as business premises in Market Harborough
and arrested a further four men and one woman. Those arrested have
been taken into custody at Kettering and Wellingborough on suspicion of
people trafficking and money laundering.
Search warrants involving Northamptonshire Police, Kettering Borough
Council and Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service have been carried
out at premises in Kettering where it is believed that the migrant workers
were living in conditions that were overcrowded and potentially unsafe.
The investigation called Operation Ruby centres on allegations that
people were recruited through advertisements and agencies in Eastern
Europe and travelled to the UK on the promise of work.
When they arrived, it is believed that their documents were taken from
them and much of the wages they earned was withheld to pay for their
housing and transport costs.
Detective Superintendent Glyn Timmins, Director of Investigations
at Northamptonshire Police and part of the Forces new Protective
Services Command, co-ordinated todays enforcement operation. He
said it is the culmination of months of liaison, investigation and planning
involving these many agencies.
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, Det Supt Timmins said.
The fact that so many organisations have come together to act in this
way is a demonstration of how seriously we take our responsibility to
support people who have been exploited in this way and to disrupt this
unacceptable activity.
Nick Kinsella, Chief Executive of the UK Human Trafficking Centre
said: This operation demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement
agencies to tackle human trafficking. The UKHTC has been integral to this
investigation providing tactical and strategic advice both operationally and
in the care of potential victims that are recovered as a result of this
The UKHTC has firm roots as a Centre of expertise in the ongoing fight
against Human Trafficking and the training and best practice we are
continuing to develop is ensuring a co-ordinated approach to this crime.
Simon Excell, UK Border Agency regional deputy director, said:
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. It is a modern form of slavery. But both UKBA and the police
are determined, with our specialist foreign national crime teams, to stamp
it out and catch the ringleaders. We are taking action against more
organised criminals, facilitators and employers who break the law.
We are also taking tough action against employers who hire illegal
migrants - naming and shaming them, imposing heavy fines, plus
prosecuting and imprisoning them when appropriate. And thanks to the
new points-based system, employers now have to apply for carefully
policed licenses to hire migrants.
Andy Baker, Deputy Director of the Serious Organised Crime
Agency, said: SOCA is committed to working with its partner agencies to
counter the threat from and reduce the harm caused by those suspected
of trafficking migrants into the UK for labour exploitation purposes.
More than 60 of our officers were involved in todays operation including
members of our vulnerable persons team who are assisting colleagues
from Northamptonshire Police and are offering support to those individuals
who we believe were being exploited.
SOCA is also determined to tackle human trafficking by focusing on the
countries migrants come from and the ones they travel through. We are
working closely with our international partners to increase the risk to
serious organised criminals in other countries and reduce the profitability
of their activities.
Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the Gangmasters Licensing
Authority said: "Protecting vulnerable workers and dealing with rogue gangmasters is
what we do. The action taken today shows that no gangmaster can get
away with this abuse, the GLA and our colleagues in other agencies are
watching and will deal with the unscrupulous individuals that use their
control over the lives of their workers to cause misery."
Luke Hodson of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:
Inter-agency action such as this is vital and todays operation could be
one of the most valuable life-saving pieces of work we carry out between
now and Christmas.
This has been a huge undertaking for us and none of the agencies would
have been able to take this action independently.
Martin Hammond, Deputy Chief Executive of Kettering Borough
Council, said: Kettering Borough Council is the responsible authority for
housing standards. The Council has been, and will continue to work,
closely with the police throughout this operation.


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