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Four arrests in South Coast shellfish operation

Four arrests in South Coast shellfish operation

Concerns of contaminated Clams in the food chain

A large scale multi agency operation, one of the largest operations of its type in recent years took place on Wednesday 5th May, with enforcement officers attending three separate locations in West Sussex, Portsmouth and London.
The operation took place following concerns regarding unlicensed gangmasters tasking individuals to harvest clams from an unclassified beach where there are concerns of ecoli contamination. The investigation will focus on allegations that the clams are being sold in Portsmouth and Billingsgate Market in London.

The operation which led to the arrests of four individuals under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and further enquiries on a number of issues was the culmination of joint working between the Gangmasters Licensing Authority which led the operation, Sussex Police, Hampshire Police, Arun District Council Environmental Health, Portsmouth City Councils Port Health Unit, London Health Officers and Sussex Sea Fisheries District Committee.

The operation commenced in the early hours of 5th May, when a team of London Health Officers sampled clams from a store at Billingsgate Market which were then sent to the laboratory for forensic examination.
This was followed by Sussex Police securing the beach at Rustington before the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Arun District Council Environmental Health and Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee interviewed and seized equipment and clams from clam pickers with three individuals arrested under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004.

As part of the overall objective to deal with the whole supply chain, officers from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Hampshire Police and Portsmouth City Councils Port Health Unit served a search warrant on a fish processing plant in the Portsmouth area where it was believed that the clams were sold to before ending up at Billingsgate Market. One further arrest was made here on suspicion of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.

Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority said The disruption to the local community near the beach and the serious health issues related to the possible consumption of contaminated shellfish made this a priority for all agencies involved. There is a real determination to resolve this issue not just as a sharp shock to stop it in the short term, but to deal with the whole supply chain and cut off the avenues for this to happen again.

Robert Clark, Deputy Chief Fishery Officer for Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee, said: We are pleased to be working with partners to deal with the problem of the unregulated commercial collection of shellfish from the seashore: such multi agency action is essential to effectively manage the environmental problems associated with this activity.

Portsmouth City Councils head of environment and public protection, Paul Hunt, said: Our primary concern is to ensure the protection of public health. Working alongside a range of agencies made this a successful operation, and one which makes sure that any companies illegally trading in shellfish are properly investigated and dealt with.

Roger Wood, Deputy Head of Environmental Health at Arun District Council, added: This combined operation was the result of frequent reported incidents to Environmental Health, by mindful residents in Arun, that illegal shellfish harvesting was observed on the beaches of Littlehampton & Rustington. This authority is determined that such illegal activities are prevented and potentially unsafe food is prevented from entering the food chain via unscrupulous operators.

Andy Orpin, Sussex Police Community Support Officer said: I am personally very pleased to have been able to have had such a positive input into solving this important local issue. I would like to thank local residents who called Sussex Police to alert us of the diggers, which allowed Sussex Police the opportunity to gather valuable information, which led to the final arrests. Three arrests took place here locally in Sussex, and warrants were executed in Portsmouth and London. Sussex Police will continue to work closely with these partner organisations, sending a clear message that the activities we have uncovered will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.
All four arrested individuals who were from the Portsmouth area have now been released on bail pending further enquiries and laboratory results.


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