Frontline report on the dawn raids determined to clampdown on those suspected of exploiting migrant workers in the Fens

PUBLISHED: 14:02 15 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:09 15 October 2013

Officers assemble at Whitemoor Prison before the raids.

Officers assemble at Whitemoor Prison before the raids.

Archant

I watched on from yards away as a suspected unlicensed gangmaster was arrested during one of a series of eight co-ordinated raids which shook Fenland to its foundations this morning.

Officers speak to a man during the raid of Conference Way. Officers speak to a man during the raid of Conference Way.

Before the operation started there was a tangible sense of anticipation as about 300 people gathered at Whitemoor Prison, the meeting point for the raids which targeted properties in March, Wisbech and King’s Lynn.

• Nine arrests, two recruitment agencies suspended in day of action to halt exploitation in the Fens

The battering ram used on the raid of the house in Conference Way. The battering ram used on the raid of the house in Conference Way.

I followed a convoy of three police vans which set off at 3.30am to an address in Conference Way, Wisbech.

They arrived at the two bedroom semi-detached house in a quiet residential area at about 4am.

A team of officers leapt out of their vans and swarmed the house ready to pounce while a couple of officers bludgeoned in the front door with a battering ram.

After several forceful attempts the door gave way and officers charged inside with frightening speed.

They went from room to room and discovered their male suspect upstairs in one of the bedrooms.

The man, shocked and uncooperative, sat on his bed and was reluctant to get dressed.

Several minutes later he was led from the house through a media scrum of flashing lights and cameras to a police van.

Once inside, he thumped the van’s walls repeatedly and sobbed uncontrollably.

While he was waiting in the back of the van, another woman was led away in handcuffs to a separate van.

Both the arrested man and woman were taken to March Police Station, where they would be joined by seven other suspects.

While this was happening, a semi detached home in Gorefield Road, Leverington, was being searched by officers.

Paperwork checks were carried out on five people living there as officers attempted to work out whether they were victims of exploitation or gangmasters.

The heightened police presence in Wisbech clearly had an effect on the migrant workers.

A group of ten workers gathered at the BP garage at the Freedom Bridge roundabout in Wisbech to wait to be picked up for work but when they saw the police they ran off.

About 300 people were involved in co-ordinated raids at eight properties in March, Wisbech and King’s Lynn at about 4am.

The raids were part of a day of action for Operation Endeavour, a joint Cambridgeshire Police and Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) operation which was launched in June to investigate people suspected of exploiting migrants in Fenland following the alarming findings of Operation Pheasant.

Eight people – seven men and one woman - were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and were taken to March Police Station.

A 22-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possessing a section 5 firearm, a pepper spray, and was taken into custody at King’s Lynn.

Two March-based recruitment agencies, Roberto Mac Ltd and Slender Contracting Ltd, had their licences suspended.

A reception centre has been set up by Fenland District Council to accommodate workers affected by the raids.

The British Red Cross and the Salvation Army are at the centre offering first aid, clothing, food and support.

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