Police save three from 'snakehead' gang

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The Independent Online

Armed police rescued three badly beaten hostages, said to be illegal immigrants, being held by a Chinese "snakehead" gang yesterday after a fourth escaped and raised the alarm.

Armed police rescued three badly beaten hostages, said to be illegal immigrants, being held by a Chinese "snakehead" gang yesterday after a fourth escaped and raised the alarm.

Officers who stormed a flat on an estate in Thamesmead, south-east London, believe the hostages, Chinese nationals, were being held to force ransoms from their families in China. Five men and a woman, again all Chinese, were arrested.

One freed hostage told police he entered Britain in early June, in a lorry with about 30 other Chinese. That was around the time the bodies of 58 illegal Chinese immigrants were found in a sealed lorry container at Dover.

A round-the-clock operation to find the hideout was launched early on Sunday after the fourth hostage escaped. The 18-year-old was found in the street by a passer-by. He said he had been bundled into a vehicle in Trafalgar Square after a visit to Chinatown.

Det Supt Jon Shatford said officers had "a race against time", adding: "The man said he had been running for half an hour and couldn't remember where it was." He said the four hostages were afraid for their families' safety and they might be too frightened to offer information leading to a successful prosecution.

The human traffic out of China is controlled by 10 "snakehead" gangs who charge up to £20,000 each, then often demand further payment through low-paid work, prostitution and ransom.

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