Police have arrested nine people suspected of exploitation of migrant farm workers in a series of dawn raids across the fens.

Three hundred police and officials from a number of agencies including the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority and the National Crime Agency were involved in the operation. It raided eight premises in Wisbech and March in Cambridgeshire and King’s Lynn in Norfolk.

Seven men and two women were taken into custody at about 4am on 15 October.

Eight of the nine people arrested are being questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud. A 22-year-old woman from Wisbech was arrested on suspicion of possessing a section five firearm, namely a pepper spray, and was taken into custody at King’s Lynn.

The police and GLA also attended the premises of March-based recruitment agencies Roberto Mac Ltd, and Slender Contracting Ltd, whose licences were suspended with immediate effect.

Cambridgeshire Police said that they had identified 34 victims, 11 of whom were being given support and protection.

Migrant worker advice

    These raids may spell the start of a more rigorous enforcement regime, warns Phil Cookson of Lincolnshire law firm Roythornes.

    Any business which uses labour agencies in the regulated sectors must ensure that the provider holds a valid GLA licence, not only at the start of the commercial relationship but throughout. There are various cases where clients have done the necessary checks at the start, satisfied themselves that the licence is in place, only to discover a few months later that the agency has had its licence revoked later. There is an “active check” service through the GLA website which keeps you up-to-date. Using an unlicensed provider is a criminal offence with penalties up to 51 weeks in prison.

The day of action was part of Operation Endeavour, an ongoing joint police and GLA inquiry into the exploitation of migrant workers in the Wisbech area, originating mainly from Lithuania and Latvia, which has been running for four months.

Fenland police commander, chief inspector Mike Winters said: “We are targeting those who gain from others’ suffering.

“Victims are promised a better life in the UK with well-paid work but often end up in overcrowded accommodation and immediately placed in debt to a gangmaster who controls their affairs.”