On 1 July 2014, five defendants were found guilty of being part of an organised crime group involved in trafficking human beings into the United Kingdom, and were convicted by a UK court to a total of over 75 years' imprisonment.
Their conviction is the result of a UK-led cross-border investigation, code-named 'Birkhill', run by the London Metropolitan Police Service and supported by Hungary and Europol, which has led to the dismantling of the organised crime group engaged in trafficking Hungarian victims into the UK to exploit them through forced prostitution. Police believe the group was responsible for trafficking over 120 women into the UK.
The investigation started in 2012 and looked at a criminal network deeply involved in the large-scale trafficking of Hungarian women to the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The targeted criminal group had a hierarchical structure and was composed of Hungarian and British nationals who had their 'centres of gravity' in the EU countries mentioned. The long-term investigation showed that the criminal group mainly recruited women in Hungary through adverts on the Internet - the women applied online for what they believed were administrative, cleaning and babysitting jobs. Victims were then flown to London where they were forced or coerced into prostitution across the city. Some were made to have sex with up to 20 men a day.
While the trafficking victims were prostituted, their earnings were taken by the members of the criminal group. The gang controlled the women with threats of violence and intimidation, including threatening to harm or tell their families that they were prostitutes. The gang would retain the victims' passports to exert further control over them.
The gang managed the victims from a make-shift call centre and used over 40 mobile phones to organise bookings on a commercial scale. Police discovered that each phone had details of the victims' working names, fees and brothel locations taped to them. They charged clients between £30 and £100 per hour.
The Metropolitan Police Service's Trafficking & Kidnap Unit arrested four main targets on 30 January 2013, following an intelligence-led investigation. Other suspects were arrested a few months later, including one suspect who was the subject of a European Arrest Warrant, and was arrested in Hungary and then extradited to the UK.
Europol actively supported this cross-border human trafficking operation from the start and provided operational analytical support throughout the investigation to the countries involved. This included facilitating information exchange and analysis, and participating in coordination meetings.