A leafy Norfolk cul-de-sac was at the centre of a major police operation yesterday targeting organised gangs involved in trafficking young women and prostitution.

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Warrants were executed at properties across Great Yarmouth as well as the nearby village of Bradwell in an investigation linked to the eastern European country of Lithuania. Eight people were arrested.

Operation Feed started in December after a Lithuanian woman approached police outside Norfolk but was unable to specify where she had been held. After more women came forward over the summer with similar stories about being duped into the sex trade and forced marriages, Norfolk police were able to focus on Yarmouth.

Norfolk detective Rickie Botwright, who led the inquiry, said yesterday’s raids involving 40 officers in the culmination of 10 months’ work had been a big success.

He said: “The focus of our investigation has been to identify young women living in our community who have been subjected to a number of serious sexual assaults.

“Additionally our aim has been to put a stop to the trafficking of young women. I think today’s arrests will go a long way to achieve our aim.”

He said he believed those affected had been lured into the country on promises of jobs and accommo-dation and then sold into the sex industry for sums of up to £15,000.

The raids took place simultan-eously at 9am after an early morning police briefing.

The main suspect, a 33-year-old man, was arrested at a house in Meadowland Drive, a residential street in Bradwell, for conspiracy to commit offences under the people trafficking act and rape. A 23-year-old woman was also arrested there in connection with people trafficking.

Neighbour Tony Burrell, 55, said: “We’re concerned about what’s been going on in our neighbour-hood. There were always cars parked outside the house and this used to be such a safe area.”

There were swoops on seven other homes in Isaacs Road and Breydon Road in Cobholm and Manby Road, King Street, Exmouth Road, Britannia Road, Admiralty Road and Albany Road in central Yarmouth. They resulted in the arrest of three other men, aged 29, 34, and 66 in connection with people trafficking. The 66-year-old male was also arrested on suspicion of rape.

A 20-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion of people trafficking offences and threats to kill.

Detective Inspector Botwright, who flew to Lithuania earlier this month to co-ordinate with police there, and worked with the UK Border Agency, said: “I went out there to understand how these people have the element of control and what makes the girls so frightened. I think it’s the fear of violence and the fear that their families will be identified.”

He appealed to any other victims to come forward.

“Potentially there could be a lot of girls living in the Yarmouth area who have suffered the same circumstances. We hope by putting this out there that we can appeal to those who may not have come forward to do so.”

Det Insp Botwright said he believed those affected had been lured into the country on promises of jobs and accommodation, and then sold into the sex industry for sums of up to £15,000.

He said: “I went out to Lithuania to understand how these people have the element of control, and what makes the girls so frightened. I think it’s the fear of violence and the fear that their families will be identified.”

Det Insp Botwright said they were still looking for three suspects and would be interviewing those in custody.At the Bradwell raid, police were joined by TV “hard man” Ross Kemp filming for his new series.

The former EastEnder has made a name for himself infiltrating some of the world’s most dangerous gangs in a series of recent documentries.

This time he was there with a film crew to see police make arrests as part of Ross Kemp’s Extreme World, set to be broadcast in January.

But the first thing Det Insp Botwright knew about Mr Kemp’s presence was at the briefing yesterday morning.

He said: “He had been told that we were investigating human trafficking, and I was told that there would be some extra people at the briefing so that was interesting to see who it was.

“He and the team were marvellous and very keen to work with us and not compromise the investigation. Ross was a smashing bloke, and genuinely concerned about what was taking place, as well as very knowledgeable.”

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