Two men have been arrested in Stoke-on-Trent on suspicion of human trafficking, as part of an international investigation.
A warrant was executed in the city, while searches were also carried out in Norfolk, London and Northumbria early this morning (19 November), as part of a South Yorkshire Police led investigation, with simultaneous activity in Romania.
In total, nine people were arrested - eight men and two women - on suspicion of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and money laundering.
Police teams were also supported by the National Crime Agency, and specialist operations units from the north and east of the country.
Similar activity took place in Romania while the UK warrants were being executed, resulting in the arrest of a 37-year-old man.
The men aged 38 and 19, arrested at a house in the Potteries, are being questioned locally.
Following the raids a total of eight women, aged between 18 and 30, were identified as being potential victims of trafficking. They have been taken to a place of safety where they will be spoken to and provided with immediate care and support.
Detective Inspector Claire Mayfield, leading the investigation for South Yorkshire Police, said: “Protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, including those who have been brought into the country for the sole purpose of exploitation, and identifying offenders involved in this serious crime type, is our absolute priority.
“With the support of our colleagues at the other assisting forces, specialist policing resources and the authorities in Romania, we have been able to significantly disrupt a suspected organised crime group and identify potential offenders.
“A key part of today was also about identifying potential victims of trafficking and providing immediate safeguarding.
“The people we identified today were taken to places of safety where they were offered immediate, practical support. As the investigation progresses, they will be spoken to and offered the relevant long-term support.”
The operation was also supported by the Insurance Fraud Bureau, Europol AP Phoenix, the Romanian Embassy and the Romanian Police and Prosecutors.
The Romanian Ambassador in the UK, Dan Mihalache, said: “This is the second time during only the last week, when the British police and the Romanian Police have joined efforts to dismantle a suspected organised crime group believed to be exploiting young women.
"I praise the work of the Romanian police and South Yorkshire Police, who have proved today that together we can be more powerful and we can make our communities safer.
"It is a new example of our zero tolerance crime policy embraced by both states and I assure the Romanian community in the UK that we will not curb efforts for a safer environment for all.
"The bilateral police cooperation will continue at high pace and the commitment of both parties is much appreciated.
The Romanian Police attaché in the UK, said: “South Yorkshire Police, Metropolitan Police, NCA, Staffordshire Police, Staffordshire Regional Organised Crime Unit, Northumbria Police, Norfolk Police, East Midlands Special Operations Unit and North East Special Operations Unit and Europol AP Phoenix, together with Romanian police officers from Directorate for Countering Organised Crime today conducted a successful operation, during which over ten arrest warrants were carried out simultaneously in the UK and Romania and synchronising themselves in what we call an example of excellent police cooperation, which the Romanian Police is committed to continue.
"The Romanian Police reiterate their appreciation for the UK-Romanian partnership and assure the British partners of their continuous support.”
Anyone with concerns should call either 101, 999 in an emergency or speak to the 24/7 Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700.