Three men who are believed to be victims of slavery have been taken to a place of safety following raids by police in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire areas.
Officers from Avon and Somerset Police have also arrested two people in connection with slavery offences, and detained a further five on suspicion of offences including failing to appear, cannabis production, money laundering and handling stolen goods.
The arrests were made as part of Operation Wanderer, an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking.
The operation involved three traveller sites, a business unit and house in South Gloucestershire, and a residential property in Bristol.
Chief Superintendent Julian Moss of Avon and Somerset Police said the force had launched an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking five weeks ago.
To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by those alleged victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Avon and Somerset Police
“This is an ongoing and dynamic inquiry; our primary aim is to safeguard and protect vulnerable victims,” Mr Moss said.
“We know from talking with other police forces and charities such as Unseen that victims in such cases are often forced to live and work in poor and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with little or no pay. Some of those affected will not view themselves as victims and, even if they do, may have been unable to speak to the police or any other authorities for a variety of reasons.
“To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Today’s operation is a very visible statement of our intent to protect people from this type of exploitation.”
The operation was a collaboration with the local council, NHS commissioning group, the National Crime Agency and specialist charities including anti-trafficking organisation Unseen, the Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Mr Moss added: “I understand this morning’s operation may be of concern to local residents and the wider travelling community. It’s important to recognise that the actions of a small minority of people are not reflective of the wider travelling community.
“Similar investigations in other parts of the country show the issue of forced labour, domestic servitude and human trafficking is prevalent in many areas of society… I would appeal to members of the public to come forward with information about this specific investigation or about anyone they suspect of being a victim of forced labour or exploitation. Please talk to us, as every piece of information will help. If you yourself are a victim please talk to us, we can help protect and keep you safe.”
If you can help, please call the police on 101, or call the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555 111