Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Police have raided 27 brothels across Northern Ireland as part of a major multi-agency operation targeting human trafficking.
A man and a woman have been arrested following an operation which involved more than 150 officers.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it was targeting an organised crime group which has been trafficking people throughout Northern Ireland for sexual exploitation.
The operation was supported by partners in An Garda Síochána, the UK’s Home Office Immigration Enforcement, The National Crime Agency and Public Prosecution Service.
It is part of Operation Liverless, which began in February.
Two people have been arrested, a 63-year-old man in Pomeroy and a 47-year-old woman in Newry.
Both were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, controlling prostitution, brothel keeping and money laundering.
— Police Service NI (@PoliceServiceNI) November 21, 2022
Following the arrests, officers visited 27 brothels across the North to carry out safeguarding with victims of human trafficking.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Hill, head of the organised crime branch, said: “Today, detectives and officers across the Police Service of Northern Ireland conducted a major operation against an organised crime group responsible for trafficking women and transgender individuals into and around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“Many of the victims involved are originally from Brazil, and have been exploited in over 27 brothels located in Newry, Armagh, Dungannon, Omagh, Cookstown, Derry, Coleraine, Belfast, Aughnacloy, Ballymena and Portrush.
“We believe they have been targeted due to their immigration status and lack of English language, which makes them vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation.
“This is so typical of what human traffickers do.
“They rely on the fact that victims are unable or afraid to speak out.
“They prey on vulnerable people, control everything in their lives and make vast amounts of money from exploiting them.
“Modern slavery is an appalling crime.
“It denies victims their human right to life, safety and freedom.
“Sadly, it’s very real, and there could be victims of exploitation in your street or neighbourhood.”
Liam Harrison, from the NCA’s modern slavery and human trafficking unit, said: “Modern slavery and human trafficking is often hidden in plain sight.
“The NCA worked closely alongside the PSNI to provide support for today’s arrests which have seen the safeguarding of numerous victims allegedly sexually exploited in Northern Ireland.
“Our work with partners, including the PSNI, is hugely important in combating the threat of modern slavery and human trafficking both at home and overseas.”
Mr Hill added: “The solution requires collective efforts, and I’m appealing to anyone who has information or concerns that someone is being controlled to please do the right thing and speak up.
“Your call could end the misery of a victim living right next door.
“Likewise, if you have been exploited, please speak to us.
“I can assure you that you will be treated with respect and sensitivity, every step of the way.”