SPECIALIST slavery officers swooped on four city houses today in a series of raids that ended in multiple arrests for alleged modern-day slavery offences.
Gwent Police, supported by other agencies, targeted houses in early morning raids at York Place, Alexander Road, Trinity Place and Lysaght Avenue in Newport.
The houses are thought to be linked to a human trafficking and slavery trade centred on small, cheap car wash businesses.
The traffickers pay for their victim's travelling costs, putting them immediately in their debt, before taking their passports and forcing them to pay excessive rents to live in squalid conditions, explained Detective Becky Lewis at one of the addresses raided.
In return, said Det. Lewis, they can expect to earn less than £3 an hour at car washes and other businesses, while fighting to pay off their debts to the slavers.
At the address in Alexandra Road, Pill, one man was arrested and a potential victim was found.
"The accommodation they had him in is disgusting: three men sharing a single room with a mattress on the floor," said Det. Lewis.
"We spoke to the potential victim and then he went off to work in Cardiff.
"We spoke to the people who took him but they're all in the same boat."
Two men and a woman were also arrested in an afternoon raid at the Gilfach Super Hand Car Wash in Gwerthonor Place, Bargoed, as around 230 police officers, including 26 student officers, carried out a 'day of action' aimed at protecting vulnerable people across Gwent.
Detective Sergeant Amanda Venn, who has headed up Gwent Police's dedicated modern day slavery team since it was created on February 26, explained that five people have come forward to report abuse since her team was created.
"The trade is extremely organised," said D.S. Venn.
"What those five have told us is that jobs are advertising in Romania for around £35 a day. When they get here, often that doesn't materialise.
"They are forced to work for weeks without any breaks or time off, and are put up in horrible accommodation.
"Four of the five were sharing a bed and getting charged £75 a week for it.
"They survived only by hoovering up coins from between the seats while they are cleaning the cars. They saved up to buy a loaf of bread, and that's what they lived on.
"It's all about education and awareness, because some of them aren't even aware that they're being abused because they are told they will earn more than back home.
"But it's everywhere, and it's hiding in plain sight.
“We wouldn’t have been able to complete our day of action without the help of other partner agencies. They were all brilliant and we have a fantastic working relationship with them, alongside specialist search trained officers, financial investigators, interpreters, and a specialist interview team.
“We would urge anyone who feels that they are a victim and are vulnerable to get in touch. We will believe them and help to support them and signpost them to all the relevant services and agencies.”
Superintendent Glyn Fernquest, who led today's operation, emphasised the need for "front foot policing" rather than reacting to crimes affecting vulnerable people.
"We organise days like this to get back on the front foot," he said.
"It's about supporting vulnerable people, and educating them. Some of them don't even know that they are victims."
In all, six houses and three car washes were raided by the slavery team and other officers, supported by Home Office immigration officers, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Health and Safety Executive and the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority.
Police confirmed the raids led to the arrest of an Iraqi man, Iranian man, Romanian woman and Romanian man on suspicion of committing Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking offences.
Three Romanian nationals were offered support and advice by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, after being identified as potential victims of Modern Slavery.
Officers also carried out raids focussed on domestic violence, during which six arrests were made.
A total of 12 'Claire's Law' disclosures were also made, whereby anyone who suspects their partner or potential partner could have a history of being violent can apply confidentially to the police for information.
A checkpoint set up near the A546 Heads of the Valleys road and manned by student police officers focussed on supporting vulnerable road users by taking dangerous vehicles off the road.
One arrest for drink driving and 132 vehicle and person Police Network Checks were carried out at the checkpoint.
Superintendent Fernquest added: “I’d like to thank everyone who took part in this day of action across Gwent. This positive and proactive work was aimed at addressing vulnerability in our community, ensuring our communities are safe for all."