FOURTEEN men and three women have been arrested during a series of early-morning raids targeting an international human trafficking gang.
A total of 29 women aged 20 to 40, believed to be victims of trafficking, were rescued in the operation by the Metropolitan Police, supported by officers from Romania.
The Met said 16 warrants were executed at addresses in Redbridge, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Brentwood and Tower Hamlets.
The suspects, aged between 17 and 50, were held on suspicion of modern slavery, controlling prostitution, class-A drug offences and firearm offences relating to a stun gun.
They remain in custody in a central London police station and the suspected victims have been taken to a place of safety.
Four warrants were carried out in Romania at the same time, leading to the arrest of a man in Constanta.
The arrests were part of the latter stages of an international investigation known as Operation Kelang, involving the Met, the Crown Prosecution Service, Romanian police and prosecutors, the Romanian embassy, Europol and Eurojust.
The operation has been supported by several charities and groups supporting the victims of modern slavery, including Refuge and the Church of England.
Det Ch Insp Richard McDonagh, from the Met’s Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit, said: ‘The Met recognises the seriousness of modern slavery and the devastation it brings to people’s lives.
‘We have an investigative capability across frontline policing and have invested in specialist resources through our Central Specialist Crime — Vulnerability Investigations Team which tackles complex cases. This allows us to target offenders and support victims.
‘Today’s synchronised operational activity spanned 16 addresses in east London and four addresses in Romania with the aim of, in one fell swoop, dismantling an organised crime network and providing support to the victims.’
Dan Mihalache, the Romanian ambassador in the UK, praised the joint operation.
A spokesman for Romanian police in the UK said: ‘Today’s operation is another example of our excellent bilateral co-operation.
‘The operation was organised simultaneously in both countries in perfect co-ordination. Romanian police officers working shoulder to shoulder with our British partners is a great achievement, a proof of our mutual permanent support and a great professional reward.
‘The Romanian police is committed to continue its efforts in combating all forms of criminality together with the Metropolitan Police.’