Trafficking crackdown frees 170 victims

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The Independent Online

Nearly 170 victims have been freed from the clutches of people traffickers in the largest-ever crackdown of its kind, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said today.

A total of 167 people - mostly women and girls - were uncovered in just six months and 528 suspected traffickers were arrested.

Victims rescued in the project, known as Operation Pentameter Two, are thought to include children, but full details have not yet been unveiled by the Home Office.

The Home Secretary said: "Human trafficking is a despicable crime, perpetrated by organised criminal gangs whose business is to make money from human misery.

"Pentameter Two has been a great success. It is an excellent example of partnership working and I would commend all those involved who have made a real impact in rescuing victims and bringing to justice those who exploit them."

Victims are brought to the UK and sold as commodities for sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Police chiefs have said women snared by human traffickers can be forced to have sex with up to 40 men a day by violent pimps.

A total of 55 police forces across the UK and the Republic of Ireland took part in the project.

The first Operation Pentameter in 2006 rescued 88 victims including a dozen children aged 14 to 17, and made 232 arrests.

It lasted four months so the rate of arrests and the number of victims uncovered in the second, six-month long operation was significantly higher.

Officers in the first phase executed warrants in 515 brothels, massage parlours, private homes and other premises across the UK and Ireland.

Ms Smith said today: "Human trafficking has no place in modern society and I am absolutely determined that we continue to take tough action to disrupt these criminal gangs.

"As a signal of this commitment the Government signed the Council of Europe Convention on Human Trafficking last year and will ratify it by the end of this year."

The agreement will grant freed victims of human trafficking the right to stay in Britain for up to 30 days, even if here illegally.

The Government has also handed £4.5m to the Poppy project for trafficked and exploited women over the last five years, plus an additional £1.3m this year for specialist victim support.

In March last year the Home Office warned that the 2012 London Olympics would be a magnet for criminal gangs seeking to traffic sex slaves and other illegal workers into Britain.

Further details of Pentameter Two are expected to be published later today.