Police smash gang forcing children into crime

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The Independent Online

Police today smashed a modern-day "Fagin's gang" who forced young children into a life of crime.

Officers said the gang of mainly Eastern Europeans were using children to target victim's in London's West End.

Police from three forces were involved in a series of raids on 17 addresses in Slough, Berkshire.

They suspected organised gangs, mostly from Romania, are using cheap rented properties in the suburban town as a base for raids into the capital.

Senior officers said the 25 adults were arrested for offences including immigration breaches, deception, fraud and theft.

Ten children are now in the care of social services as police investigate whether they were illegally brought into the UK.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the majority of offences were taking place in Westminster, with tourists, business people and commuters the victims.

He said the gang members were also involved in pick-pocketing and sophisticated cashpoint crime.

Many of the raided properties, in the Chalvey area of Slough, were high-occupancy rented homes with many people crammed inside.

The raids, codenamed Operation Caddy, followed an eight-month intelligence operation aimed at identifying those behind certain crimes.

Commander Steve Allen, who is responsible for policing in Westminster, said poor children were being lured into lives of crime by the promise of cash.

He said: "While many of these crimes committed appear to be low level, we have evidence that organised crime networks are exploiting and driving the most vulnerable members of their own community.

"With promises of a financial return, some poor families surrender their children, who are subsequently forced to commit crime.

"Today's operation is about us targeting those behind organised crime networks on the streets of London, and the criminal exploitation of children.

"We continue to work closely with and share intelligence with the Romanian authorities."

Superintendent Pete Davies, Slough police commander, confirmed many of the raids took place in the Chalvey area.

He added: "Slough welcomes new communities and benefits from strong community links.

"A large percentage of the established community are from minority ethnic groups and the town is well-known for its diversity.

"Good community and race relations are of paramount importance to the way in which the area is policed."

Officers from the Metropolitan Police, Thames Valley Police and British Transport Police were involved in the dawn operation.

Charles Dickens's character Fagin featured in Oliver Twist and he was the leader of a gang of children who made their living through theft.

He may have been based on 19th-century London criminals who recruited children as pickpockets and exchanged goods they stole for food and shelter.