Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/UK: Police free immigrants held by Chinese gang
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Sep 27 2000 - 09:53:18 EDT
Police free immigrants held by Chinese gang
By Paul Kelso
The Guardian, September 8, 2000
Armed police used stun grenades to free eight illegal immigrants
believed to have been held hostage by a Chinese "Snakehead" gang in
the largest anti-kidnap operation ever mounted in the UK.
Seven women and one man were freed during the raid on a house in
Poplar, east London, on Wednesday afternoon. Two women were
discovered crammed into a tiny cupboard space measuring 2ft by 1ft
behind a false wall in the two-bedroom maisonette.
The women, who, along with the rest of the victims had been held
captive for at least 10 days, were distressed and received medical
The other hostages were said to be shaken but in relatively good
health given the length of their ordeal and the strain of being held
against their will. All eight have been taken to a secret address
under police protection and will be questioned by immigration
Thirteen people found in the flat were arrested on suspicion of
kidnapping and false imprisonment and were being questioned last
night at three central London police stations. Another person
arrested at the scene, a juvenile, was released from custody
A police source said the abductions appeared to be an "archetypal
snakehead kidnap". The gangs specialise in trafficking illegal
immigrants into the UK using extensive smuggling networks.
Police were alerted when one of the hostages, a man in his early 20s,
escaped from the house on Byng Street in the Isle of Dogs on Monday
morning. He was found in a distressed state by a taxi driver who took
him to a local police station.
Officers from Scotland Yard's kidnap and specialist investigations
unit mounted a 24-hour surveillance operation to locate the remaining
captives. More than 100 officers were involved in the operation over
Shortly before 1pm on Wednesday, officers from the specialist
firearms unit fired stun grenades through the front window of the
maisonette. A small explosive charge was then fired to remove the
lock on the front door and officers stormed the flat.
There was no resistance from the suspects although a replica firearm
was found in the flat.
An eyewitness, Sharon Hurley, 39, who runs a mobile snack business
near the flat, described seeing armed officers dressed in black and
wearing gas masks storm the flat. "We heard a series of loud bangs
right on 1pm and all wondered 'what the hell was that'," she said.
"Then we saw all hell breaking loose outside the flat. There were at
least four or five armed police dressed all in black, over half a
dozen police vans and two ambulances in the street. The officers were
carrying rifles or machine guns. They told us later that the bangs we
heard were stun grenades."
All 22 people in the flat, some of whom were dressed only in
underwear, were marched on to the street, searched, photographed and
then clothed in white boiler suits before being driven away for
Human traffickers charge up to £20,000 to organise passage from China
and the majority of the money is paid when the illegal immigrants
reach the UK. The majority of Chinese illegal immigrants come from
Fujian province, a largely agricultural area.
Last month four men were arrested and charged with kidnapping and
false imprisonment after a police raid at an address on the
Thamesmead estate in Greenwich on the opposite bank of the Thames.
Figures released by the national criminal intelligence service (NCIS)
show an increase in incidents of kidnapping and extortion involving
Chinese-organised gangs in the last year. The number of kidnaps in
the UK rose from 41 in 1998 to 72 last year.
An NCIS source said there were typically three scenarios in kidnap
cases: "Groups of illegal immigrants smuggled into the country by one
gang may be kidnapped by a rival gang and money demanded; they may be
taken hostage by the people they payed to smuggle them into the
country; or they may be kidnapped after falling behind on payments."
Jabez Lam, a Chinese community activist, said economic hardship and
political repression were behind the increasing numbers of immigrants.
"Unemployment is rising fast in China and it forces people into
increasingly desperate choices. These people sometimes leave children
and family behind in order to try and make money abroad to support
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in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
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