Four men were arrested today on suspicion of trafficking hundreds of women from Hungary and other European Union countries into Britain to work as prostitutes.
It is believed many of the alleged victims of what police described as a sophisticated and high-value scheme run by a suspected international criminal network were lured to the UK after answering adverts in newspapers and employment websites for jobs as receptionists.
Up to 400 flights were arranged for the women, a number of whom were raped and physically abused when they were forced into sex work. Most of the victims were from Hungary.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Trafficking and Prostitution Unit (TPU) investigating the sexual exploitation of foreign nationals raided seven addresses in London and Luton including a business premises in Camden, north London, which was operating as an agency.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the TPU said: "These arrests follow a six-month investigation. We believe that many women have been brought into the country having been told they will be given jobs, only to then be forced to work as prostitutes, with some being physically abused and raped in the process.
“Our main concern is for the victims. Today we have identified women we think have been sexually exploited, and they have all been offered care. The next stage will be to try to identify other victims, not just in the UK but those who have returned to Hungary, so they can be offered the same support.”
Two of the addresses in Enfield are believed to have been operating as brothels, police said. Three of the men arrested were Hungarian nationals whilst one was a 33-year-old British man who was arrested in Barnet, North London. Among the premises visited in the co-ordinated early morning raids was one at a luxury development in London’s Docklands.
A number of potential victims were found at the addresses according to police, whilst computers, cash, travel documents and account registers were all seized. The men are being questioned at a police station in north west London.
Detectives are now working with colleagues in Hungary and the Czech Republic to identify further victims. So far 15 women have come forward although police believe the final number could be far higher.
It is believed that the organisers of the network had been generating considerable revenue from their activities with people employed to work at each stage of the process from recruiting the women in Hungary to meeting them at UK airports as well as at the premises where they were required to meet male clients in return for cash.
The women, a number of whom were answering adverts for escort agencies, were all able to travel on the national passports or using identity cards. Police have investigated a number of individual cases involving trafficking from Hungary but this is the first on such a large scale.