Twenty eight children were rescued as part of a major joint operation led by the UK Metropolitan Police and Europol. The operation, finalised in October 2010, was part of a wider investigation called Operation Golf, which consisted of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) between the Metropolitan Police and the Romanian National Police. The aim of the JIT was to tackle a specific Romanian organised crime network that was trafficking and exploiting children from the Roma community. To date, the investigation has led to the arrest of 126 individuals. The offences include: trafficking human beings (including internal trafficking in the UK), money laundering, benefit fraud, child neglect, perverting the course of justice, theft and handling of stolen goods. Court cases are ongoing. The operation's primary aim was to safeguard the potential child victims and involved 16 addresses being searched in Ilford, Essex. The children found were taken to a dedicated centre staffed by child protection experts from the police, the local authority and local health trust, where individual assessments were made on each child. The assessment process examined the welfare of the children and sought to identify if they had been subject to exploitation and/or neglect. Europol was an active member of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and provided assistance to the competent authorities by:
- Giving expert advice on setting up the JIT and the planning of strategic and operational activities.
- Ensuring analytical support throughout the whole investigation. One of the key outcomes from this analysis was the identification and prioritisation of the main targets of the organised crime group, both in Romania and the UK.
- Providing on-the-spot assistance through the deployment of its mobile office, in the UK and Romania on four occasions. Each time, real-time checks were carried out on the database to support intelligence gathering operations and coercive British and Romanian police actions (searches and arrests).
- Drafting and disseminating 67 analysis reports.
- Identifying key links to other EU countries, especially Belgium and Spain.
- The quality and quantity of analysis provided by Europol was crucial to the progress of the case. Europol is expected to provide further support in the near future.