SEVENTEEN people, including several children, have been rescued from exploitation as part of a major clampdown on human trafficking in Yorkshire.
Dozens of police officers and various other agencies raided 25 addresses across the south and west of Leeds in a three-day operation, and found victims living in squalid conditions with no cash or resources. The victims – who are mainly from Slovakia – have now been placed on a protective register.
Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Andy Williams said: “A multi-agency operation on this scale, involving such a large number of potential human trafficking victims, is unprecedented in West Yorkshire.
“We are very pleased that it has been successful in rescuing a significant number of people from the exploitative situations they had been trafficked into. Many were living in very poor housing conditions. Others were being exploited by being forced to work long hours for little or no pay.”
The move comes as part of an ongoing investigation into an organised criminal gang thought to be behind human trafficking, large-scale benefit fraud and labour exploitation in Leeds and elsewhere. Eight people have been arrested and bailed as part of that investigation.
Despite hailing the crackdown, police fear the numbers of trafficking victims may be the tip of the iceberg. The trafficking hit-squad had originally escorted three men, four women and 19 children to a specially set up reception centre for questioning. Another 33 people who were approached during the operation preferred not to co-operate and remained where they were.
Det Chief Insp Williams added: “Our criminal investigation is ongoing and we expect to make further arrests to bring those responsible to justice.
“We hope this will send a message to those who are involved in this type of activity, and give other victims confidence that the authorities can provide the help and support they need to escape.”
Among the agencies involved in the raids were anti-trafficking charity Hope for Justice and the Salvation Army.