Seventeen arrested in London in human trafficking crackdown

Ben Quinn
Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Seventeen people have been arrested in early morning raids as part of a joint operation by British and Romanian police targeting an international human trafficking gang.

The raids in London also led to the rescue of 29 women, aged 20 to 40, who were believed to be victims of trafficking and have been taken to a place of safety, according to the Metropolitan police.

Those detained, who are aged between 17 and 50 and include three women, were held on suspicion of modern slavery, controlling prostitution, class A drug offences and firearm offences relating to a stun gun.

A man was also arrested in the Romanian city of Constanta as police there executed warrants at the same time as British police were doing so at addresses in Redbridge, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Brentwood and Tower Hamlets.

DCI Richard McDonagh, from the Met’s modern slavery and kidnap unit, said the synchronised operations had the aim of dismantling an organised crime network “in one fell swoop” and providing support to the victims.

“The Met recognises the seriousness of modern slavery and the devastation it brings to people’s lives,” he said.

“We have an investigative capability across frontline policing and have invested in specialist resources through our central specialist crime – vulnerability investigations team, which tackles complex cases. This allows us to target offenders and support victims.”

The arrests were part of the latter stages of an international investigation known as Operation Kelang, involving Scotland Yard, the Crown Prosecution Service, Romanian police and prosecutors, the Romanian embassy, Europol and Eurojust, the European Union agency dealing with judicial cooperation.

It was also supported by several charities and groups helping the victims of modern slavery, including the domestic violence charity Refuge and the Church of England.

Romanian police officers were on the ground in Britain during the raids as part of a cooperation that included a Romanian police attache at the country’s UK embassy.

Dan Mihalache, the Romanian ambassador in the UK, said: “Romanian police officers working shoulder to shoulder with our British partners is a great achievement, a proof of our mutual permanent support and a great professional reward.

“The Romanian police is committed to continue its efforts in combating all forms of criminality together with the Metropolitan police.”

The operation comes after a call for urgent reform by the former anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland, who said Britain’s system for preventing people-trafficking into the country was failing.

How many people are living in modern slavery worldwide?


Across the world, 40.3 million people are living in some form of modern slavery. More than half of the victims are in forced labour. Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that involves the use of coercion, abduction, fraud or force to profit from someone’s sexual exploitation.

99% of the estimated 4.8 million sex trafficking victims across the world working in the sex industry are women and girls.

13,000 people are estimated by the UK government to be the victims of modern slavery in Britain today.

70% of the world’s 4.8 million sex trafficking victims are in the Asia and Pacific region.

$150bn is generated by the modern slave trade every year, according to UN estimates. Sex traffickers can earn up to £29,000 per victim.


Hyland said last month that the UK was still failing to treat human trafficking as a serious organised crime, and the country viewed it instead primarily as a “social issue”, he said.

Although the Modern Slavery Act of 2015 was “groundbreaking”, insufficient resources had been allocated to investigating the trafficking networks. He was critical of some of the government’s recent anti-slavery initiatives, such as lighting buildings including 10 Downing Street and the Home Office up with red floodlights to mark Anti-Slavery Day.