17 rescued in trafficking probe
Seventeen men, women and children have been rescued from exploitation in a police investigation into human trafficking, and eight people have been arrested.
West Yorkshire Police said that a three-day operation saw 60 of its officers, supported by Leeds City Council staff, health agencies, Hope for Justice and the Salvation Army, visit 25 addresses across Leeds, mainly in the south and west of the city, to offer help to families identified as being potential victims.
They took three men, four women and 19 children to a reception centre where they were given access to the services of the relevant agencies.
A total of 17 of those people, who are mainly from Slovakia, have been placed into the "National Referral Mechanism", which identifies victims of human trafficking and ensures they receive protection and support.
A police spokesman said officers began investigating an organised criminal gang in September thought to be behind human trafficking, large-scale benefit fraud and labour exploitation in Leeds and elsewhere.
The eight people arrested have been bailed, and enquiries are continuing to trace others believed to be involved.
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Andy Williams said: "A multi-agency operation on this scale involving such a large number of potential human trafficking victims is unprecedented in West Yorkshire.
"We are therefore very pleased that it has been successful in rescuing a significant number of people from the exploitative situations they had been trafficked into from their home country.
"Many were living in very poor housing conditions with no access to local support services and little if any income to exist on. Others were having their benefits taken from them and being exploited by being forced to work long hours for little or no pay.
"Those that we and our partner agencies have rescued from these situations will now have access to a comprehensive package of support from a range of agencies that will help them to rebuild their lives free from exploitation.
"Our criminal investigation into these matters is ongoing and we expect to make further arrests as part of our efforts to bring those responsible to justice. We hope this will send a message to those who are involved in this type of activity and give other victims confidence that the authorities can provide the help and support they need to escape from their situations."