SEVEN men and a woman have been arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown on human trafficking and suspected prostitution.
Dawn raids were carried out out across Lancashire, Gateshead and Evesham in relation to a nine-month probe into an organised 'Romanian crime group' centred on Blackburn.
It is thought the gang netted up to £1.3million, with police confirming that individual gang members are alleged to have made £600-per-day for each woman exploited.
All eight individuals, who are all Eastern European, have been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to traffick for sexual exploitation and conspiring to incite prostitution. They were all in police custody last night.
Eight women, aged between 18 and 26, were found inside the suspected brothels and are thought to have been trafficked to the UK from Romania for the purposes of prostitution. Police said safeguarding and welfare issues were being addressed.
Once inside the country it is believed the women were forced to work as prostitutes, with their services advertised on adult websites.
As part of Operation Ludlow, police and officers from the National Crime Agency raided a house in Whitebirk Road, Blackburn, at 7am yesterday and arrested three Romanian men aged 25, 28 and 31. Two women were also found in the house, who are thought to be working as prostitutes.
Other raids took place in Preston, Blackpool, Gateshead and Evesham.
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As a result of that, police arrested a 29-year-old woman and four men aged 30, 27 and two 29-year-olds.
Detective Inspector Mark Vaughton said: “Operation Ludlow has been a pro-active investigation looking into human trafficking involving organised crime groups from Romania, which has lasted approximately nine months. We identified initial targets and from that it has led to eight arrests.
"The initial enquiry started in Blackburn and the main focus was around a couple of addresses in the town.
"As the investigation has progressed and evidence obtained, that has led us to identify additional addresses elsewhere in Lancashire and other areas of the country. We believe the women have come over from Romania or are Romanian women who have been living elsewhere in Europe and once they have arrived in Blackburn their details have been advertised on adult websites.
"What we have found is the women have stayed in Blackburn for a short period of time, gone to other parts of the country and then returned to Blackburn. There has been constant movement of the women around the United Kingdom."
DI Vaughton said a number of women had been trafficked, the crime group had received a 'significant financial gain' and the arrests had 'prevented further harm coming to the women involved'.
He added: "Slavery is not something confined to history, it is still happening today, and it’s happening in Lancashire.
"We would urge the public to look closer. Modern slavery could be happening right in front of you – whether that’s in nail bars, car washes, rural businesses, brothels, massage parlours, or a property in your neighbourhood.
“In Lancashire we are committed to rooting out those individuals who choose to exploit others and we have dedicated officers working hard to remove this type of threat from our communities.
“This area of policing is complex and identifying modern slavery can be difficult, but we have had a number of successful prosecutions recently and there have been a number of victims who have been rescued from exploitation and are now rebuilding better lives with the right help and support.
“Remember if something doesn’t seem right or you have a suspicion about trafficking or slavery, report your concerns to us.”
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw, who attended the raid, said: "The operation has been a great success and shows why it's so important to remain focused on human trafficking. These were highly organised gangs making thousands of pounds, exploiting the most vulnerable women and girls.
"The success of the raid is testament to the hard work and professionalism of Lancashire officers and I'm proud that the resources I have put into this fight places us at the forefront of anti-trafficking work in the country.
"Those arrested are part of the criminal infrastructure that exists to get these young girls into the country. Operations like today limit their ability to operate and will keep more victims out of the clutches of these gangs."
Anyone who suspects someone is being trafficked should call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.