Gloucestershire Police have arrested ten men during a two day operation in Gloucestershire. 8 of the men were from Gloucester and aged between 20 and 33. A 21 year old man from Norwich and a 34 year old man from Essex were also arrested. All the men were arrested on a variety of offences including fraud, the supply of class B drugs and the manufacture and production of class B drugs.
Operation Cleveland was set up under the direction of Detective Inspector Ian Fletcher following intelligence received earlier in the year surrounding Serious and Organised Crime Gangs operating in Gloucestershire. It’s believed these gangs also have links to Bristol, Birmingham and London and we wanted to establish the level of criminal activity.
As a consequence of these investigations, Gloucestershire Police executed early morning drugs warrants at four residential and one business premises in Gloucester on Wednesday 11 October. These addresses housed Albanian gang members who were arrested on suspicion of offences relating to the supply of controlled drugs. This part of the operation was swiftly followed by officers executing drugs warrants at a further five properties in Gloucester and one in Cheltenham which had been identified as cannabis farms. Further arrests of cannabis ‘farmers’ took place at these addresses. The amount of cannabis plants found at these farms was substantial and believed to be valued at around £750,000.
The second phase of the Operation took place today, Thursday 12 October, where we were supported by our partners from Home Office Immigration Enforcement, plus others including DWP, HMRC and GLAA (Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority). This involved visiting four car washes in Gloucestershire to find out if any outlets were being used for criminal activity, including the possibility of harbouring illegal immigrants and any other offences that may have been identified.
Throughout the two day operation we were aware of the fact that we may find victims of modern day slavery and human trafficking. Previous work locally, and with our national partners, has indicated connections between cannabis cultivation, car washes and modern day slavery and human trafficking. With this in mind, police and partners have put in place support processes locally and have linked with The National Referral Mechanism to provide ongoing support where victims are identified.
Immigration Enforcement Officers supported both days of the operation in order to carry out immigration checks on individuals referred to them by police. Today they arrested a 32-year-old Albanian man of no fixed abode for immigration offences at a car wash in Cheltenham. Police continue investigations in terms of links with modern day slavery.
Police and Immigration officers also identified a 17 year old female who was found to be working in inappropriate circumstances. Safeguarding measures have been put in place around her.
Chief Inspector Gavin Webb, Force Lead for Modern Slavery said:
"Modern slavery is a broad subject and impacts upon a number of areas of policing, from child sexual exploitation to forced labour and trafficking into the sex trade. We recognise the links with certain industries and sectors and seek to put plans in place to support victims along with our partners. Being victim focused is the only way to positively combat this appalling crime. We continue to raise awareness across agencies through the Gloucestershire Anti-Slavery Partnership, and seek to bring perpetrators to justice."
David Gill, Disruption Team Manager for the Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN) said:
“Gloucestershire Police has been supported by the Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN) from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit and is committed to disrupting organised crime and supporting law enforcement using all available partner agency powers to identify those responsible for labour exploitation and organised criminality. Today is a good example of partner agencies working together to identify potential exploitation and those responsible for it.”
Operation Cleveland has sought to develop intelligence around Serious and Organised Crimes Groups operating in Gloucestershire; to disrupt this activity and to obtain successful prosecutions for offenders linked to the identified criminality. This work links to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s priorities of protecting our most vulnerable members of society and keeping the communities of Gloucestershire safe from harm.
Detective Inspector Ian Fletcher said:
“I’m very pleased with the success of this two day operation which resulted in the disruption of serious organised crime gangs operating in Gloucestershire whose criminal activity has had a detrimental impact on our communities. It’s believed that the cannabis cultivated at these properties is valued at around £750,000. One of the cannabis farms was located directly opposite a primary school in Gloucester. These gang members have no regard for the safety and well-being of those living in the communities in which they are operating.”
“We want to ask people to be aware of what may be going on in residential houses nearby. Please be on the lookout for unusual activity, including houses where the windows are permanently blocked out; where an unusual ventilation system may be in sight; where large pieces of electrical equipment or even large deliveries of fertilizer are taking place, as well as a strong smell of cannabis coming from a property. If you have concerns please call us on 101 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can give information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Besides the police and social services other specialist support is available to victims of modern slavery. We know greater awareness helps people to feel confident to come forward themselves or report suspicious concerns relating to someone else. Traffickers commonly use misinformation saying that no-one will help victims if they escape so as to keep them under their control. The Salvation Army operates a 24 hour helpline offering support for all adult victims of modern slavery in England and Wales, including accommodation, repatriation, finances and finding employment. Their 24 hour confidential helpline is 0300 303 8151. https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/human-trafficking
Advice and support for professionals and potential victims can also be found via the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700. https://www.unseenuk.org/
You can also get further information from the Constabulary website at https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/campaigns/modern-slavery
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