Organised crime crackdown yields 80 arrests

Police make an arrest during the Operation Challenger crackdown
Police make an arrest during the Operation Challenger crackdown

SUSPECTED child sex offenders and a number of illegal workers have been arrested in Wigan during the region’s largest ever crackdown on serious organised crime.

One man was detained on suspicion of child sexual exploitation and another for grooming.

In a separate raid on an unnamed Wigan car wash, several people were detained as suspected illegal workers.

Over a five-day period, Greater Manchester Police worked in partnership with Home Office Immigration Enforcement, the National Crime Agency, Europol and other local and national partner agencies to undertake a series of raids, visits and safeguarding checks as part of Operation Challenger.

More than 40 warrants have been carried out to disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups involved in illegal immigration, illegal marriages, drugs and the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable in society.

During the clampdown there have been 78 arrests – 45 immigration-related and 33 for other organised crimes. Drugs with a street value of more than £285,000 and more than £70,000 of cash has also been seized. Further disruption to organised crime groups has been delivered in the form of £100,000 in fines served to businesses in the region. Further arrests and seizures are likely to be declared in coming days.

Car washes in Salford, Wigan and Oldham were visited during the week, where a number of illegal workers were discovered. Offences including drugs, benefit fraud and a potential sham marriage have also been uncovered through those visits – an effective and successful example of Challenger in action.

Also in Wigan, while conducting Harm Reduction visits, the GMP Child Sexual Exploitation Unit arrested one man for both CSE and drugs offences, and another man was arrested for grooming offences.

Chief Supt Rebekah Sutcliffe, who heads Challenger for Greater Manchester Police said: “This has been another hugely successful week for Challenger and we would like to thank Immigration Enforcement, Europol, all other agencies and the local communities for their support.

“Organised crime groups do not assume a certain appearance or status; they take many different forms and often masquerade behind what appears to be a legitimate business, where they launder their ill-gotten gains.

“They do not specialise in a particular type of crime either and will pursue anything that offers the least risk and highest reward, from selling counterfeit goods and loan sharking to human trafficking and drug dealing.

“Those orchestrating illegal immigration will be involved in other criminality – there is often an overlap so this is why our multi-agency partnership and our close collaboration with Immigration Enforcement was integral to a quick and effective week of action.

“These criminals operate by preying on the most vulnerable in society - and this is why activity such as this is really important to us.”

Dave Magrath, Head of the Home Office North West Criminal Investigations team, said: “This week we have made more than 20 arrests in the North West in connection with various investigations into suspected immigration crime.

“These arrests, and the Challenger operations, demonstrate the effectiveness of working alongside partner agencies such as Great Manchester Police. This work will continue to make life as tough as possible for those who seek to abuse our immigration laws.”

Chief Supt Sutcliffe added: “Challenger is crucial in giving communities the confidence to speak out and report this destructive and intimidating behaviour that threatens our neighbourhoods.

“By working in partnership with so many agencies we have attacked these gangs from every angle, exposing them whilst at the same time protecting those that they exploit for their own gain.

“But the job isn’t over yet. With the public’s help, we’ll continue to work hard to uncover the criminal activity and bring these individuals to justice.”

Anyone with information should contact police on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.