Four people were arrested in dawn raids this morning in rural Perthshire as police mounted a major operation into an alleged human trafficking network.
The Courier joined officers as they executed arrest warrants at two properties in the Blairgowrie area at around 7.30am as part of an intelligence-led multi-agency investigation.
Three men aged 37, 39 and 53 were detained along with a 53-year-old woman as part of Operation Barramundi.
A number of potential victims of human trafficking were also identified.
Suspects still in their beds
The two suspects in their 50s were arrested at a house in Rattray and led away in handcuffs while still dressed in their nightwear.
The 37-year-old was discovered following a raid on the chalet-style lodges a few miles away.
The fourth man was located a few hours later as inquiries continued.
The suspects are all believed to be Romanian with alleged links to the fruit picking industry in the region.
The police operation, which was probing an alleged trafficking network said to have been operating in the Blairgowrie area for a number of years, reached its culmination today.
The dramatic chain of events began with a briefing for officers at Baluniefield Police Station in Dundee around 6am.
Twin raids catch suspects off-guard
The teams included officers from Police Scotland’s Operational Support Unit, the National Human Trafficking Unit as well as staff from the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority who had travelled from England to take part in the operation.
Officers then left in a convoy of nearly a dozen police vehicles, with blue lights flashing, headed out through Coupar Angus before mounting their twin raids on the properties at the centre of the inquiries.
At 7.30am, trained officers utilised a Code 1 rapid entry technique to smash in the doors of the properties in attempt to catch the suspects off-guard.
It is believed the two suspects found in Rattray were still in their beds when officers burst through their door.
Operation Barramundi was launched after information was received from the UK Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) regarding the alleged gang’s activities in the area.
The NRM is the UK-wide framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.
‘Exploitation is happening in your community’
Other agencies involved in the several week investigation culminating in Friday’s raid include Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, Perth and Kinross Council and Migrant Help.
Detective Inspector Marc Lorente, who led Friday’s operation, wants other victims to come forward following the enforcement operation.
“I would urge anyone with information about potential human trafficking offences in their area to contact the Police so that further enquiries can be carried out,” he said.
“Police, other enforcement agencies and partners cannot tackle this issue alone – we also need the public to work with us if we are to identify and help vulnerable individuals being exploited.
“If you suspect exploitation is happening in your community, please report it.”
Recently Police Scotland a national campaign to raise awareness about modern slavery in Scotland in a bid to make the general public more aware and vigilant of potential signs of such crimes in their communities.
‘Help make Scotland a hostile environment for traffickers’
Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, Head of Police Scotland’s Human Trafficking Unit said: “Police Scotland is committed to identifying and uncovering exploitation networks.
“This can only be achieved by working collaboratively nationally and internationally with law enforcement partners, to collate information and intelligence that will allow us to pursue organised criminal gangs engaged in human trafficking and exploitation.
“We will utilise all investigative methods at our disposal to bring those who engage in this vile and inhumane trade to justice.
“The public have a significant role in achieving this and to help make Scotland a hostile environment for traffickers.
“Modern slavery and human trafficking have no place in our communities.”
For more information on Police Scotland’s campaign visit endlabourexploitation.co.uk
Anyone wishing to report concerns over human trafficking or modern slavery or who thinks they might be a victim should contact Police Scotland 1o1.
Alternatively they can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 121 700