Starved of food, healthcare and subject to repeated threats.
Twenty seven people who were being forced to work to fund the lavish lifestyles of an organised Romanian crime gang in Corby have been rescued.
Rolex watches and designer gear worth £80,000 was found during raids – all funded by people being forced to work as slaves.
A joint operation between Northamptonshire Police and the Romanian Police, with support from the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU), Europol and Eurojust, targeted a modern slavery gang on Wednesday (April 27).
The 4am raid saw cops enter 25 properties over the course of the morning – 12 in Corby and 13 in Romania.
Officers believe the ‘organised and sophisticated’ gang has been operating for four years, luring vulnerable people in unstable financial situations in Romania by offering them jobs in the UK.
However, once they arrived in the UK , the gang would take their ID documents and phones, forcing them to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and without sufficient food or basic health care.
The suspects established a wide network for the recruitment, transportation, accommodation and exploitation of victims. They formed links with local companies such as factories and commercial car valeting sites, where the victims would be forced to work for little or no wages at all.
All salary payments made to the victims would be withdrawn by the gang and violence was threatened to family members back in Romania should any of the victims speak up.
The gang would then use this money to fuel a luxurious lifestyle, paying for expensive goods and investing in property ventures back in Romania.
They would also direct the victims’ money through a number of their own businesses in an attempt to conceal their criminal profits and the victims’ details were also falsely used to complete fraudulent financial applications in order to secure more money.
In November 2021, Eurojust approved a joint investigation team between Romania and the UK to tackle the gang under the name Operation Booker. This was the first one ever to be secured by Northamptonshire Police, demonstrating the scale of our commitment in tackling exploitation and protecting victims of slavery.
Following the 26 warrants executed yesterday as a result of this taskforce, seven arrests were made – four in Romania and three in the UK.
A total of 27 people have also been identified and safeguarded since the operation began, and a large quantity of cash, designer goods and mobile phones were seized. Two air weapons were also taken away.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Cobley from Northamptonshire Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Team, said: “I’m very pleased with the results of this joint operation – the team have been working on it for the past eighteen months so to see arrests made in both countries and a number of people safeguarded is brilliant. This is a great example of international collaboration in order to effectively target and prevent organised crime.
“The victims in this case have been subjected to an absolutely horrendous ordeal - they were taken away from their home country with the promise of a better life but it was all a lie.
“They were severely exploited - their finances were taken away from them, they weren’t given access to enough food and basic health care, they had no support network to lean on, and were subjected to repeated threats of violence.
“To get some of these individuals onto a better life is a great result and I want to reassure the community that we will continue working hard with our partners to progress this case even further.
“Finally, I want to use this opportunity to appeal to anyone who may have information on modern slavery to contact us. It’s not always obvious but if you see something that doesn’t seem right and you think that people may be being exploited please contact either ourselves or if you wish to remain anonymous – Crimestoppers on 0800 55511.
“We would rather make enquiries into a well-meaning report that turned out to be nothing than to not be called at all.”
Head of EMSOU’s TOEX Team - DI Dan Smith, said: “EMSOU and Northamptonshire Police have been working on building intelligence around this investigation for a number of months, and to see it all come to a head yesterday was a fantastic feeling.
“We’ve been able to use systems to bring pieces of the jigsaw together and create a picture of exploitation we suspect has been happening between Romania and Northamptonshire.
“The main aim of everything we do at TOEX is to help vulnerable people who are at risk of high harm, and the efforts we made to safeguard a number of people this week is something we will always be proud of.
“Our work doesn’t stop here. We will look to create a long-term solution to support those that – through no fault of their own – have found themselves victims of modern slavery, and to bring those responsible for such a high level of organised criminality to justice.”