New vice squad to tackle airport sex-slave auctions

A special sex trafficking squad is being set up to investigate the escalating problem of foreign women being smuggled into Britain to work as prostitutes.

The 30-strong unit will be based at Scotland Yard and is due to start work in the autumn.

It comes amid rising alarm among police officers at the huge numbers of foreign women being forced into prostitution on arrival in this country.

The Crown Prosecution Service will warn at a conference today that "slave auctions" of women to be sold into prostitution are being held on the concourses of British airports by brothel keepers.

Trafficking gangs are selling sex workers as soon as they arrive on British soil from many countries including eastern European states, the CPS research has discovered.

One auction of sex workers even took place outside a coffee shop in the arrivals hall at Gatwick airport, while others have been reportedly held at Heathrow and Stansted airports.

The head of operations at Britain's largest vice squad admitted that the police were only beginning to realise the scale of the problem, which is also linked to drugs and guns.

"There has been a significant increase in the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation," said Detective Chief Superintendent David Eyles, the head of operations at the Metropolitan Police's clubs and vice unit. "It is only since we started to tackle the problem [in an operation that was started in January] that it has become clear it's a national and international phenomenon.

"If I got a train to anywhere in the country, I could find a brothel within an hour which was using women from outside this country.

"Fifteen years ago, if you went to a brothel, 75 to 80 per cent of the women would have been UK citizens but now the opposite is true and 80 per cent are foreign nationals.

"I don't think there has been any appreciation until recently about the scale of what is going on."

The squad will be funded by the Home Office and will be charged with tracking down leading traffickers and gangs running brothels.

Violent Albanian gangs are increasingly controlling the sex industry in Britain. The police are particularly concerned about the traffickers because they are also involved in guns and drug dealing as part of their business.

Vice officers have discovered that many of the foreign women who work in brothels come to Britain specifically to work in the sex industry, rather than being innocent victims. The women buy forged documents from the traffickers and some are smuggled into the country, while others come as tourists but do not leave.

Det Chief Supt Eyles said that the women can make huge amounts of money - from £5,000 to £10,000 a week.

Most of the money is used to pay off the traffickers and the brothel owners or sent back to the families of the prostitutes.

Many of the women are abused, gang raped, imprisoned in tiny rooms and made to have sex with up to 40 men a day.

A Home Office report five years ago estimated the number of victims at 1,400, but experts believe the current figure could be double that. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said the new "reactive" unit will take on high level investigations.

Detectives will be expected to carry out surveillance and covert operations against the major traffickers.

The unit will also work with the Immigration Service, the Passport Service and the CPS.