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Sixty trafficked migrant workers set free by police

Authorities have clashed with the UK’s largest trafficking gang

19 November 2008. A major operation – believed to be the largest of its kind ever mounted in the UK – has been carried out this morning 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 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. 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, who co-ordinated the enforcement operation, said it is the culmination of months of liaison, investigation and planning.

"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", said the detective.

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."

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was set up to safeguard the welfare and interests of vulnerable workers whilst ensuring that gangmasters who supply workers to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging operate within the law. The GLA has already revoked the licences of 77 rogue gangmasters and can prosecute those operating without a licence and those using an unlicensed gangmaster. 

The Operation Ruby co-ordinated by Northants Police saw nine different 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 hit the UK’s largest trafficking gang.

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