TO REDUCE THE IMPACT AND INCREASE THE DISRUPTION OF SERIOUS AND ORGANISED CRIME ACROSS THE REGION AND BEYOND

Workers safeguarded in food factory slavery operation

News / May 24

ROCU West Midlands and West Midlands Police have safeguarded a group of workers suspected of being exploited for cheap labour at a Birmingham food processing plant − the latest operation in the force’s campaign to target gang masters and traffickers.

Officers swooped at Star Frozen Foods in Tyseley on 23 May on the back of police intelligence suggesting staff were being worked in sub-standard conditions and paid well below the minimum wage.

Around 70 people − many suspected of being brought from Romania to the Wharf Road factory − were taken to a reception centre and offered medical attention, refreshments and an opportunity to speak to specially trained officers.

Five people believed to be part of the management team were kept apart from the workers and questioned about the food processing operation, while searches are being carried out at the premises plus two residential properties nearby.

Today’s raid is the latest in a series of West Midlands Police operations that’s seen more than 40 people arrested on suspicion of slavery offences in the last 12 months.

Detective Inspector Colin Mattinson, West Midlands Police’s lead on Modern Day Slavery , said: “It’s an uncomfortable truth that in modern day Britain, right here in the West Midlands, people are being abused for slave labour.

“We recognise the issue and are working with partner agencies to go after offenders and safeguard vulnerable people…many are being paid a pittance and made to work and live in appalling conditions while gang masters profit from their misery.

“We have several complex cases on-going into suspected trafficking and slavery gangs − and we’ve secured court orders against suspects that place strict conditions on their business dealings that are designed to protect vulnerable people at risk of exploitation.

“But modern slavery is still largely a hidden crime. We want to raise the public’s awareness of the signs and urge them to report anything suspicious so we can take action.

“Today’s operation was largely in response to concerns raised by members of the public − we take information passed to us seriously and will take decisive action if we believe people are being exploited."

“We recognise the issue and are working with partner agencies to go after offenders and safeguard vulnerable people…many are being paid a pittance and made to work and live in appalling conditions while gang masters profit from their misery.

“We have several complex cases on-going into suspected trafficking and slavery gangs − and we’ve secured court orders against suspects that place strict conditions on their business dealings that are designed to protect vulnerable people at risk of exploitation.

The 11am warrant saw ROCU West Midlands teams and West Midlands Police work alongside HMRC, Home Office Immigration, Food Standards Agency, West Midlands Fire Service, the The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the National Crime Agency.

The people safeguarded − understood to include Pakistani-British nationals, Lithuanians and Latvians − will have the option of supporting a criminal complaint and referred through the National Referral Mechanism. 

Should they be identified as victims they will be housed by the Salvation Army outside the region for 28 days while enquiries progress.

In the last year − from May 2016 to April 2017 − West Midlands Police has recorded 208 slavery offences, up from just over 100 in the previous 12 months.

Det Insp Mattinson, added: “We are committed to tackling modern slavery and trafficking; it’s pleasing victims are reaching out to police and support agencies to report offences and break free from the shackles of gang masters.

“I’d urge people to look out for tell-tale signs − like large numbers of people staying in multi-occupancy houses and being ferried to and from the address on vans or minibuses early in the morning and returning late at night.

“If you suspect slavery offences are taking place in your community then call us on the 101 number of contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700."

©WMROCU 2014