A slavery ring involving the exploitation of 20 people has been smashed, police revealed today.
An operation involving 200 officers in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire yesterday resulted in four people being arrested under new legislation designed to tackle slavery, servitude and forced labour.
Search warrants were executed at 6am yesterday at addresses in Staverton, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Coney Hill in Gloucester and at caravan sites in Enderby, Leicestershire, and Pleasley in Derbyshire.
A 46-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man were arrested in Staverton, a 28-year-old man was held in Derbyshire and a 22-year-old man was detained in Leicestershire.
Gloucestershire Police, which was leading the investigation, said assets totalling over £2 million were also seized by officers.
A number of vehicles are now with police, along with other material being treated as evidence in the investigation.
Detective Chief Inspector David Sellwood, of Gloucestershire Police, said the arrests and recovery of victims marked the culmination of many months' work.
"We first started this operation some time ago, and have been gathering evidence for many months," he said.
"The arrests and searches we have carried out are the first visible activity and the co-ordination of the operation has been complicated, but we are very grateful to our colleagues in both Derbyshire and Leicestershire for their support.
"The offences under investigation here are very serious. They involve forcing vulnerable people to work for no financial reward, in manual labour, including the building trade, while making them live in poor conditions under threats of harm.
"The people we believe are victims of these offences are now all being cared for, and we'll be working with partner agencies to help them recover and establish a better way of life." All four have been arrested on suspicion of slavery and are currently in custody in Gloucestershire."
The arrests were made under Slavery, Servitude and Forced Labour legislation, which is a new offence under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.