Three men in Luton have been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking after a major operation targeting an alleged organised crime group.
Five addresses in Luton were searched yesterday as part of the work led by Beds Police, Luton Borough Council and government agency, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).
At around 5am on Wednesday morning, police executed a warrant in New Bedford Road.
Two men in their 20s and another man in his 30s were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.
Soon afterwards, Luton Borough Council executed warrants under the Housing Act at homes in Ashton Road, Colin Road and Fermor Crescent.
Officers found a series of serious defects in each property and the council’s investigations are continuing.
Police also undertook a further search at another address in Surrey Street.
The warrants follow a probe into a suspected organised crime group believed to be trafficking people into the UK and forcing them into work.
The operation was also supported by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit and the National Crime Agency, with more than 60 officers and staff involved from all the different agencies.
DI Katie Dounias, who led the operation, said: “This has truly been a partnership effort aimed at dismantling what we believe to be a large and sophisticated criminal enterprise.
“We know that people who are brought into the UK without speaking very good English or with very little understanding of British culture are particularly at risk of being exploited by organised crime.
“Our efforts today have helped secure a large amount of key evidence we need to progress our investigation.
“We really do need the public’s help in tackling this kind of financial exploitation. If you identify a potentially vulnerable person who has limited freedom to travel, doesn’t have their own documents such as their passport, or lives in poor conditions, please do report it.”
Cllr Tom Shaw, portfolio holder for housing at Luton Council, said: “The project... combats illegal HMOs and ensures unscrupulous landlords do not take financial advantage of vulnerable tenants and place their lives in danger.
“We will not hesitate to prosecute landlords who show a disregard for the law and their responsibilities towards occupants. We would encourage anyone who suspects a property may be an unlicensed HMO to contact us immediately.”
Anyone can report concerns around modern slavery to police on 101 or via the online reporting centre on the Bedfordshire Police website.
People can also contact the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700.
Reports about landlord issues can also be submitted via the Luton Council website.