Belfast Telegraph

Three sex trafficking victims rescued in blitz on brothels

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Three women, believed to be victims of human trafficking, have been rescued in a major cross-border police investigation into prostitution, money laundering and organised crime.

Five people were arrested as more than 170 PSNI officers raided 20-plus properties in every county of Northern Ireland.

It is thought that at least 10 brothels were discovered during the raids, known as Operation Quest, which involved the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, Europol and the UK Border Agency.

Police in the Republic conducted simultaneous searches.

“We are determined to do something about this problem,” said Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall, who is leading the PSNI investigation.

“It is not something that society should stand for, it is a criminal offence and police do take it seriously.”

The five suspects were last night being interviewed at a number of PSNI stations. A detailed examination of documents, phones and computers was also under way.

The women have been taken to suites at police stations specifically designed for dealing with those trapped in the sex trade and will be interviewed by specially trained officers.

Mr Marshall said the PSNI was responding to concerns in wider society about sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

“The primary focus of this operation was to gather information and evidence on those individuals we believed to be involved in organised prostitution, money laundering and, in effect, organised crime,” he said.

Earlier this year Stormont Justice Minister David Ford announced plans for two new laws to combat human trafficking. Between April last year and February this year, police identified 26 potential victims in Northern Ireland. They came from Ghana, Zimbabwe, China and Slovakia.

In February a man was convicted for trafficking in a Northern Ireland court for the first time.

Case study

Police questioned one woman discovered at a flat in Belfast city centre.

A team of officers with specialist equipment including heavy duty lock breakers had mustered nearby and took mere seconds to break into the locked flat after a knock to the door went unanswered.

Three or four officers pushed the door open, rushed into the room shouting “police” and found the woman, of foreign appearance, inside. Police conducted a thorough search and gathered evidence in a special plastic bag.

The woman was later led away for questioning, a black coat hiding her features from cameras.

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