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Four people have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the exploitation of migrant workers at farms in West Sussex and Hampshire.
Detectives accompanied by investigators from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) raided five addresses in Portsmouth and West Sussex on Wednesday 2 November. It was part of an investigation aimed at dismantling an organised crime operation which has been controlling and gaining illegal benefit from the work of migrant workers employed in farms and nurseries in West Sussex.
Officials from HM Revenue & Customs are also helping the investigation and assistance was also given in searching an address by Hampshire Constabulary officers in Portsmouth.
GLA investigators are looking into allegations of unlicensed supply of workers to the agricultural sector.
Three men were arrested, a 40-year old at the Portsmouth address, a 31-year old at the Tangmere address and a 43-year old at the Bognor address, on suspicion of fraud and the unlicensed supply of staff. They are being detained at police custody centres in Portsmouth and Chichester for interview and further enquiries.
An office in Portsmouth and one in Havant were also entered on the authority of a PACE warrant later the same morning. A 44-year old Hayling Island man was arrested at the Havant office and is also in custody for interview and further enquiries.
All addresses have been searched and quantities of documents and computer-related material have been seized.
Officers and GLA staff also visited six West Sussex nurseries, two in Ferring, one in Chidham, one in Walberton, one in Angmering and one in Funtington, to talk to managers and workers and seek further information about their experiences. No arrests have been made at those locations.
Detective Inspector Till Sanderson of the Sussex Police Serious Organised Crime Unit said;
"Our current enquiry relates to specific allegations about the unlawful supply of labour since July this year, but we are also investigating allegations that exploitation of migrant workers may have been going on for more than two years."
Margaret McKinlay, Chair of the GLA said;
"This operation demonstrates the effectiveness that can be achieved working in partnership using the GLA's expertise on labour exploitation, and the police's wider powers to investigate other alleged criminality. By working together we can identify whether unlicensed activity may be linked to exploitation and forced labour, ensuring that such offences are thoroughly investigated, that the full harm to workers is exposed, and any offences properly dealt with."