Seven arrested after men are freed from slavery in South Gloucestershire
THREE men have been freed from a life of slavery following police raids on a number of travellers’ sites in South Gloucestershire.
The men, one aged in his 30s, one in his 40s and one in his 50s, have been taken to a place of safety and are being given help and support.
They were found on Sunday after raids at Northwood Park in Winterbourne, Tall Trees in Almondsbury and Green Orchard in Easter Compton, a business unit and a house in South Gloucestershire and a residential property in Bristol. A suspected stolen trailer and cannabis plants were also seized at a farm in Somerset.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Wanderer, was mounted five weeks ago following intelligence built up by CID.
Police arrested two people in connection with slavery offences and five others on suspicion of offences including failing to appear, cannabis production, money laundering and handling stolen goods. A significant quantity of cash was found at one of the addresses.
Three men, aged 59, 24 and 45, and three women aged 23, 59 and 43 have been released on bail pending further enquiries. Another man, aged 63, remains in police custody.
Head of CID, Chief Superintendent Julian Moss, said: “This is an ongoing and dynamic inquiry; our primary aim is to safeguard and protect vulnerable victims.
“We know from talking with other police forces and charities such as Unseen that victims in such cases are often forced to live and work in poor and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with little or no pay. Some of those affected will not view themselves as victims and, even if they do, may have been unable to speak to the police or any other authorities for a variety of reasons.
"To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Today’s operation is a very visible statement of our intent to protect people from this type of exploitation.”
Avon and Somerset Police, South Gloucestershire Council, the South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and specialist charities including anti-trafficking organisation Unseen, the Red Cross and The Salvation Army, worked together in the planning of the operation.
Special arrangements were put in place to provide medical assessment and treatment, advice to victims on accommodation, employment, welfare and overall support. The Salvation Army will be working with victims to assess their needs and ensure they have access to accommodation and support at safe houses if needed.
Ch Supt Moss said it was important to consider the arrests were not indicative of the entire travelling community.
“I understand the operation may be of concern to local residents and the wider travelling community,” he said.
“It’s important to recognise that the actions of a small minority of people are not reflective of the wider travelling community. Similar investigations in other parts of the country show the issue of forced labour, domestic servitude and human trafficking is prevalent in many areas of society.”
“We are very grateful for the support and professional expertise of charities and voluntary organisations including the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Unseen who have helped shape and plan this operation from the outset.
“I would appeal to members of the public to come forward with information about this specific investigation or about anyone they suspect of being a victim of forced labour or exploitation. Please talk to us as every piece of information will help.
“If you yourself are a victim please talk to us, we can help protect and keep you safe.”
Chief executive of South Gloucestershire Council, Amanda Deeks, said: “We have worked closely with the police to support them in their investigation. Our focus is to ensure that the victims will be given the help they need now that they are in a place of safety.”
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “The operation clearly highlights the unacceptable and illegal crime of human trafficking.
“It shows that modern slavery is happening around us and I am pleased that the police, local authorities, and the charity Unseen UK have worked together to tackle and disrupt this abhorrent network of criminality.
“It is only by agencies and local communities working together that this crime against humanity will be stamped out.”
She added: “There will be a long road to recovery for the victims and I am reassured that they are getting as much support as possible from Unseen, local authorities, health organisations and the police.”
Anyone with any information on human trafficking or forced labour is urged to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 555.
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