Three male victims, one in his 30s, one in his 40s and another in his 50s, were taken to a place of safety and were tonight receiving help and support after Operation Wanderer saw police also raid travellers’ sites at Northwood Park in Winterbourne, Green Orchard at Easter Compton, and Tall Trees at Almondsbury.
A unit on the Greenacres Park at Coalpit Heath and a residential property in Bristol were also entered by police.
Avon & Somerset Police, South Gloucestershire Council, the South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, the National Crime Agency and specialist charities, including anti-trafficking organisation Unseen, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, worked closely together in planning the operation to ensure support was in place for victims.
The police spokesman said: “We have arrested two people in connection with slavery offences and five others on suspicion of offences, including failing to appear, cannabis production, money laundering and handling stolen goods. A significant quantity of cash was found at one of the addresses.
“As part of the same operation officers also carried out a drugs warrant at a farm in Somerset where they seized a suspected stolen trailer and cannabis plants.”
The police launched an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking five weeks ago following intelligence built up by CID. Head of CID, Chief Superintendent Julian Moss, said: “This is an ongoing and dynamic inquiry; our primary aim is to safeguard and protect vulnerable victims.
“We know from talking with other police forces and charities, such as Unseen, that victims in such cases are often forced to live and work in poor and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with little or no pay. Some of those affected will not view themselves as victims and, even if they do, may have been unable to speak to the police or any other authorities for a variety of reasons.
“To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Today’s operation is a very visible statement of our intent to protect people from this type of exploitation.”
Special arrangements have been put in place to provide medical assessment and treatment, advice to victims on accommodation, employment, welfare and overall support to help them come to terms with the trauma they have suffered. The Salvation Army will be working with victims to assess their needs and ensure they have access to accommodation and support at safe houses if needed.
Ch Supt Moss added: “I understand this morning’s operation may be of concern to local residents and the wider travelling community. It’s important to recognise that the actions of a small minority of people are not reflective of the wider travelling community. Similar investigations in other parts of the country show the issue of forced labour, domestic servitude and human trafficking is prevalent in many areas of society.”
“We are very grateful for the support and professional expertise of charities and voluntary organisations including the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Unseen who have helped shape and plan this operation from the outset.
“I would appeal to members of the public to come forward with information about this specific investigation or about anyone they suspect of being a victim of forced labour or exploitation. Please talk to us as every piece of information will help. If you yourself are a victim please talk to us, we can help protect and keep you safe.”
Call the police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
The chief executive of South Gloucestershire Council, Amanda Deeks, said: “We have worked closely with the police to support them in their investigation. Our focus is to ensure that the victims will be given the help they need now that they are in a place of safety.”