Lancashire Police have today (Wednesday, April 19th) arrested 8 people as part of an investigation into human trafficking spanning across the country.

The seven men and one woman were arrested following a series of early morning raids at addresses in Blackburn, Preston and Blackpool in Lancashire, Gateshead in Northumbria and Evesham, near Worcester (full details below).

They have all been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to traffick for sexual exploitation and conspiring to incite prostitution.

They are all currently in custody.

Eight women were found inside the addresses and were suspected of being trafficked to the UK from Romania for the purposes of prostitution. Safeguarding and welfare issues are being addressed,

The arrests, one of the biggest operations of its kind in the country, follow a long running proactive investigation led by Lancashire Constabulary’s human trafficking and modern slavery team Op Proteus, a dedicated team working to identify both the victims and perpetrators of trafficking and slavery across Lancashire,

Detective Inspector Mark Vaughton, of Op Proteus, said: “Today’s arrests are the latest stage of a long-running proactive investigation by Lancashire Constabulary into the activities of a Romanian organised crime group which we believe has been trafficking women into the country for the purposes of prostitution.

“I’d like to thank our colleagues in the other force areas and at the National Crime Agency for the assistance in co-ordinating and carrying out today’s activity.

“While this is just the latest phase of this operation today’s activities has seen both a number of people arrested and a number of women rescued from exploitation.

“Modern slavery is not something confined to history, it is still happening today, and it’s happening in Lancashire.

“We would urge you to look closer, modern slavery could be happening right in front of you – whether that’s in nail bars, car washes, rural businesses, brothels, massage parlours, or a property in your neighbourhood.

“In Lancashire we are committed to rooting out those individuals who choose to exploit others and we have dedicated officers working hard to remove this type of threat from our communities.

“This area of policing is complex and identifying modern slavery can be difficult, but we have had a number of successful prosecutions recently and there have been a number of victims who have been rescued from exploitation and are now rebuilding better lives with the right help and support.

“Remember if something doesn’t seem right or you have a suspicion about trafficking or slavery; report your concerns to us.”

Speaking at one of the targeted addresses Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw, who has funded an additional two roles in Lancashire to help investigate and build intelligence on modern slavery and human traffic offences, said: "Today's operation has been a great success and shows why it's so important to remain focused on human trafficking. These were highly organised gangs making thousands of pounds, exploiting the most vulnerable women and girls.

"The success of today's raid is testament to the hard work and professionalism of Lancashire officers and I'm proud that the resources I have put into this fight places us at the forefront of anti-trafficking work in the country.

"Those arrested today are part of the criminal infrastructure that exists to get these young girls into the country. Operations like today limit their ability to operate and will keep more victims out of the clutches of these gangs."

To pass on information anonymously you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or complete an anonymous form online . When you contact them your identity will be protected.

If you think that someone is in immediate danger call 999, if you suspect slavery is happening and there is no immediate threat to life then contact us on 101.

Lancashire Victims Services are also here to offer help and support, even if you haven’t reported a crime to the police. Contact them on 0300 323 0085.

There is also a national Modern Slavery Helpline offering confidential help and advice, you can also report information to them on 08000 121 700.

For more information see our dedicated modern slavery web page.

Arrest details:

Three men aged 25, 28 and 31 arrested at an address on Whitebirk Road in Blackburn.

One man aged 30 arrested at an address on Arkwright Road in Preston.

One man aged 29 arrested at an address in Walton le Dale.

One woman aged 27 arrested at an address on Station Road in Blackpool.

One man aged 29 arrested at an address on Watt Street, Gateshead.

One man aged 24 arrested at an address on St Margaret’s Road, Evesham.