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'Pop-up brothels' in Rochester, Chatham, Strood and Maidstone raided by police

Detectives have raided suspected pop-up brothels in the Kent as part of an operation to uncover alleged Romanian sex-traffickers.

Officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate have been working alongside the Romanian authorities since February, acting upon information women were being sexually exploited by members of an organised criminal network.

Seven rented premises in Medway and Maidstone were searched in the early hours of yesterday and officers were accompanied by interpreters and officers from the Romanian Pitesti Brigade for Combating Organised Crime.

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Maidstone Road, Chatham
Maidstone Road, Chatham

Raids were carried out in Maidstone Road, Chatham, Grove Road and Cambridge Road, in Strood, Catherine Street, Rochester, and Stagshaw Close and Bower Place, Maidstone.

Two men and three women were issued with summonses to return to Romania and face criminal proceedings.

Seven women suspected of being victims were also found within the premises and taken to a place of safety.

An ongoing safeguarding regime will be implemented while the investigation continues.

Stagshaw Close, Maidstone
Stagshaw Close, Maidstone

Meanwhile, a further 17 warrants were carried out simultaneously in Romania by the Pitesti Brigade and prosecutors from the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).

Det Insp Gary Scarfe said: "Human trafficking for any form of exploitation is despicable and has a devastating impact on victims who are treated as a commodity and not human beings.

"Most are vulnerable young women brought to the UK with an anticipation of a better life.

"Instead they are coerced into prostitution and have no control of their lives while being used as a means of making money for those who control them.

Catherine Street, Rochester
Catherine Street, Rochester

"In late 2017 we agreed with the Romanian authorities to jointly tackle what we believe to be an organised crime group operating between both countries.

"The subsequent investigation, which was planned at Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) and sanctioned by the judicial cooperation unit Eurojust, has been a major success.

"Bringing both countries together to jointly tackle these offences, dismantle the networks, safeguard all potential victims and secure prosecutions has been extremely effective.

"I would strongly urge letting agencies and landlords to be mindful of criminal groups who may seek to use their properties for pop-up brothels, as well as those who use the sex trade and may not realise that the women may be victims of human trafficking.

"Anyone with knowledge of a suspected brothel in their area is urged to report it to us to ensure we can take appropriate action and provide potential victims with the early support they may need to escape any further exploitation."

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