TWO of the eight vulnerable victims of trafficking and exploitation rescued by police in Swindon on Thursday were pregnant when they were found.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, 25 officers conducted early morning raids of three residential properties around the town, finding five men and three women from Lithuania, all in their early twenties, who had been put up in rented accommodation.
Two men from Lithuania, aged 33 and 39, were arrested at their own home on suspicion of human trafficking offences. They have now been released on police bail pending a court hearing in May.
Detective Sergeant Rob Findlay, of the Human Exploitation Team at Wiltshire Police said: “The bottom line is that slavery is happening everywhere. If anyone thought it wasn’t happening in the UK this is a wake-up call.
“It often takes the form of labour exploitation, so people are encouraged to come here from the EU with promises of riches.
“They are then stranded in the UK. In any activity where somebody can use labour to increase their personal profits, people will seek to exploit it.
“Sometimes people think this is just about people from poor countries, but British people can also be subject to slavery, and we have experienced that in Wiltshire. There are other people we are currently working on enquiries to try to help.”
The operation was the result of good community intelligence, and Det Sgt Findlay said it had been some time in the making.
“We have been working on this for a while and building towards the day itself,” he said.
“These were all residential properties where the people had been put up in private accommodation. They were places where people were being posted, and the offenders were arrested at their own home.
“They were all between 20 to 25 years old, so they were quite young, and two of the women were pregnant. They can get here and be quite resilient because they are so young, and they are trying desperately to make things work but have had their passports taken away from them so they are in their captors thrall.
“If you can imagine being incredibly poor in a poor country and you come over here and you are incredibly poor, you are probably still better off than you were. The important thing for us is that people put up with stuff because they can’t see a way out. We give them that opportunity.”
The eight people are now being supported for a 45-day period, after which they could return to Lithuania or find employment in the UK.
Major Anne Read, anti-trafficking response co-ordinator for The Salvation Army, said: “Our team has been working to assess the needs of the victims and ensure that they have access to accommodation and support at safe houses if needed.
“The Salvation Army operates to provide vital help and support to adult victims of this pitiless exploitation which gives them the very best chance to try and recover through the comprehensive specialised services we can offer working with our partners.
“The safety of victims and support for the police in successfully prosecuting the perpetrators of this horrific crime are our key priorities.”