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People-smuggling gang held.

Byline: Helen Gabriel

Nine people were arrested yesterday in a series of police raids to smash a Midland-based peoplesmuggling operation.

The National Crime Squad said suspects were arrested in dawn swoops at their homes in the West Midlands, London, East Sussex, Leicester and Chester. They were being held at police stations across the West Midlands last night for questioning.

The investigation centres on a crime ring suspected of smuggling illegal immigrants from the UK into the United States.

More than police 200 officers, many from Midland police forces, were involved in the raids, part of the largest investigation carried out by the NCS into people smuggling.

NCS assistant chief constable Jon Murphy said: 'The arrests were part of the largest National Crime Squad investigation into immigration crime.

'We have successfully dismantled an organised criminal enterprise involved in smuggling Indian nationals, including children, from this country to the United States, having previously entered the UK illegally.

'Members of this enterprise used Heathrow and Gatwick airports to fly the illegal immigrants, who had photo-substitute British passports, over to America.

'A British national travelling on their own legitimate passport would escort them and they were paying up to pounds 20,000 for successful entry.'

Those arrested include a 50-yearold man from Stourbridge and a 46year-old man from Bilston, Wolverhampton.

The gang was not thought to be responsible for bringing the immigrants into the UK in the first place, but for helping people using the UK as a stop-over to enter the US.

The racket is believed to have been masterminded in London and Sussex but based in the West Midlands.

Also arrested yesterday were two men, aged 51 and 35, from Hove; two men from Leicester aged 22 and 40; a 63-year-old man, from Hendon, north London; a 48-year-old woman from Harrow, north-west London and a 50-year-old man from Hanbridge in Chester.

Officers from the NCS branch in Rugby spearheaded the investigation as part of the Government's Reflex initiative to target organised immigration crime. Mr Murphy said: 'This operation highlights yet another method used by criminal groups to smuggle people between countries, but in partnership with agencies here and overseas we are committed to disrupting and dismantling such organisations.

'Our thanks goes to the Immigration Service, the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement and the local forces who are all assisting us with the investigation.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 24, 2004
Words:390
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