Torso in the Thames inquiry leads to 21 arrests

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The Independent Online

A gang of suspected people traffickers, believed to have been linked to the ritualistic murder of a Nigerian boy in Britain, was arrested in a series of raids in London yesterday.

Among the evidence seized by detectives was an animal skull with a nail driven through its head, which may have been used in a ritual sacrifice. One line of inquiry being investigated is that members of the gang had the boy murdered to bring the criminal enterprise good luck - a procedure known to have taken place in west Africa in the past.

Yesterday's operation is thought to have taken police a step closer to finding the murderer or murderers of the unknown boy whose torso was found floating in the Thames near Tower Bridge in September 2001. The discovery of the headless and limbless boy - believed to be aged between four and seven and known by the police as Adam - has led to an extraordinarily difficult inquiry that has included a plea for help from Nelson Mandela. The case was branded as practically insoluble by the FBI.

More than 200 officers from the Metropolitan Police raided nine homes in London early yesterday morning and arrested 21 people, most of whom are thought to have come from the region of Nigeria where Adam was snatched. Police believe that several of the properties were safe houses used by the traffickers to accommodate smuggled Africans - including children - before moving them on.

The arrests follow intelligence uncovered by detectives investigating the Adam murder. Police believe members of the people-smuggling gang could be directly involved in the murder. Several people took part in the killing and an African "witchdoctor" who was skilled in ritual murder may have been hired to cut up the boy.

Examination of the remains by scientists found that the boy had been fed a potion of bone, clay and gold. The material seized in the raids included quantities of bone, some powdered, which will be examined to discover whether they match the substance found in Adam's stomach.

Having previously failed to establish the origin of the bone in the boy's stomach, Scotland Yard has turned to the US authorities who have been sifting through the wreckage of the 11 September attacks on New York. In part because the families of victims did not want their loved ones to be buried with the remains of the terrorists, the American scientists have been sorting through the bones found at the site and have built up a huge database.

The discovery of the boy's body, wearing only a pair of girl's orange shorts, has led to an international police inquiry that has extended the boundaries of detective work.

Detective Inspector Will O'Reilly, who is leading the Adam inquiry, said: "At the beginning, when we went to the FBI for help, they said the murder was nigh on insoluble. The only clue we had was the shorts. There were no witnesses. We didn't know who he was or where he was killed."

Through a series of pioneering forensic science inquiries, the police managed to piece together much of the mystery. Pollen recovered in the boy's stomach showed he was alive when he arrived in London and stayed there for several days before being murdered.

From tests on mineral levels in the boy's bones, forensic scientists were able to establish that Adam spent his life in a 100-mile stretch of land in Nigeria, near Benin City in the south-west of the country, before he was brought to Britain.

The big breakthrough for the Adam inquiry came when Scottish social services contacted Scotland Yard and told police that one of their clients, a west African woman, had said she wanted to perform a ritual with her children.

Scotland Yard officers visited Joyce Osagiede a year ago at her home in Glasgow and arrested her when they discovered girl's clothing that was the same size and brand as the shorts found on Adam. The clothing was only available in Germany and they discovered that she had been living in that country before moving to Britain with her children. She was not charged and later returned to Nigeria.

Earlier this month, detectives traced the woman's estranged husband, Sam Onojhighovie, 37, a Nigerian. He was arrested in Dublin in connection with Adam's death. Officers believe he could be Adam's biological father.

He is facing extradition to Germany, where he has already been convicted in his absence and sentenced to seven years for offences linked to human trafficking. At the same time, police had intelligence about a suspected trafficking gang linked to the two suspects. This led to yesterday's operation in London.

After the raids, Det Insp O'Reilly said: "We are pretty confident that we have a group of individuals who could have trafficked Adam into the country." Asked about the motivation for a ritualistic murder, he replied: "In west Africa there are several reasons for human sacrifices - for power, money, or to protect a criminal enterprise."

A police source added: "We believe the prime motive for the murder was to bring good fortune. We suspect Adam was killed to bring traffickers luck." Commander Andy Baker, of the crime directorate at Scotland Yard, said there was a "very strong link" between some of those arrested and Adam. Some were also linked to two people previously arrested in Ireland and Scotland.

Det Insp O'Reilly said some "interesting substances" were recovered from one of the addresses in east London, including soils and clay, as well as an animal skull wrapped in a fibrous substance, and with a nail through it. "These items have some ritualistic meaning and we are bringing them back to our experts," he said.

Addresses in east, north and south-east London were targeted and the 21 were arrested on suspicion of immigration, people trafficking and passport offences. One woman had a six-month-old baby with her. Det Insp O'Reilly said: "We don't know how many children are involved in this operation but it's certainly in the hundreds, if not the thousands."

Thousands of children 'victims of trafficking'

By Kim Sengupta

Child trafficking into Britain is one of the fastest-growing areas of organised crime but police are powerless to act because it is not regarded as a criminal offence, the United Nations Children's Fund said yesterday

A report by Unicef said that thousands of children, mainly from west Africa, western Europe and Asia, were being sent to cities in the UK where they were put to work. The report said: "There may be literally ... thousands of children in the UK who have been brought here for exploitation."

The Sexual Offences Bill, currently before the Commons, makes it illegal to traffick people into the UK for commercial sexual exploitation. But children brought in for other reasons are unprotected. Unicef wants the Government to reform the Bill and fund specialist care, such as training for immigration officers.

The biggest change in the pattern of trafficking is an increase in arrivals from Africa. There are reports of children coming from Ethiopia, Angola, Burundi, Malawi, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.

Families often send their offspring to the UK in the belief that they will have a better life, and pay large amounts for the passage. But the report states: "Even before the children travel, they are often subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation to ensure control. In the case of eastern European children, rape and beatings are commonly used to make them more submissive.

"In the case of west African children, voodoo is used to terrify the girls into thinking that if they tell anyone about the traffickers, they and their families will die ... They are told the only way to 'lift the curse' is to pay back the money they owe the traffickers, usually about £25,000."

Unicef found the most documented form of exploitation was prostitution. But children were also "forced into virtual slavery" as domestic servants; used as "mules" to smuggle drugs; and sent out begging and pickpocketing, it said.