Two men have been arrested on suspicion of committing modern slavery offences, after a raid on a hand car wash site in Durham.
Officers raided Best Hand Car Wash on Yarm Road, Darlington, on Wednesday December 6, and arrested two men, aged 21 and 26.
Five suspected slavery victims were found working at the car wash. The men were taken to a victim reception centre providing support by specially trained officers and other agencies.
The raid was carried out by officers from Durham Constabulary, with support from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) who detained the men on suspicion of offences under the Modern Slavery Act.
It is the first operation of its kind in Darlington and forms part of Operation Sledgehammer, the force’s long-running campaign to tackle serious and organised crime.
Detective sergeant Tonya Cook, from Durham Constabulary’s safeguarding team, led the investigation. “As a force, we take allegations of modern slavery extremely seriously and are committed to investigating and tackling the exploitation of vulnerable people,” she said.
“Modern slavery is an emerging threat nationally. We are working with our partners to tackle this complex type of crime and are committed to supporting those who are victims.
“However, we also need to ask the community to consider where they spend their money. Modern slavery is happening in plain sight here in County Durham and Darlington and takes many different forms – think about where you get your car washed or where you get your nails done.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to look out for potential victims, and I would urge anyone who has any concerns about activity relating to people being exploited in this way to report it to us.”
Dave Powell, senior investigating officer for the GLAA said: “Today’s action illustrates the approach taken to tackling modern slavery across the UK is now built upon a strong alliance between law enforcement and other agencies.
“Working in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers is at the heart of what we do and the GLAA is committed to doing all it can to help eradicate these illegal working practices that cause such misery.”
Following the raid, the premises was secured and further enquiries were conducted by representatives from the Health and Safety Executive, Trading Standards, North East Regional Special Operations Unit, Northumbrian Water and immigration officers.
Support was also provided by Darlington Borough Council and the British Red Cross who worked in partnership with the police and GLAA to run the victim reception centre.
John Morris, British Red Cross director of independent living and emergency response in the North of England, said: “The Red Cross was asked by Durham Constabulary to provide practical and emotional support to anyone evacuated as a result of this operation, in a place of safety.
“Our trained staff and volunteers were on hand to provide emotional support, as well as practical necessities such as clothing, refreshments and first aid.
“The Red Cross works alongside emergency services across the UK to help those in crisis.”
County Durham and Darlington Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, Ron Hogg, said: “No one should have to suffer at the hands of illegal gangmasters. I am really pleased to see the victims being brought to safety and given the advice they need.”
Following the raid a third man, aged 28, was arrested on suspicion of committing modern slavery offences.