Kent Police has arrested 22 people following a series of early morning raids across the country as part of a major investigation into allegations of child exploitation offences.
In what has been a significant and successful operation, more than 450 staff from a variety of agencies executed 30 warrants at addresses across Kent, the Midlands and Yorkshire in the early hours of Wednesday 7 May.
More than 320 officers from Kent Police were involved on the day, together with the National Crime Agency, officers from Slovakia Police and Kent County Council Specialist Childrenâ€™s Services.
This is believed to be a unique investigation into child sexual exploitation within the UK due to the number of arrests, addresses searched and victims that have engaged with police and partner agencies.
The multi-agency investigation is focused on an organised criminal network believed to be involved in the child sexual exploitation of young girls from the Slovakian Roma community in Margate, Folkestone, Dover and Gravesend.
The 22 arrested are currently being questioned and remain in police custody.
While the arrests were being made, a number of potential victims were identified. With the help of interpreters 16 vulnerable victims were offered the appropriate support packages today by a number of different agencies.
Chief Superintendent Alison Roden of Kent Police, who has been co-ordinating the operation, said: â€˜We have arrested a number of people across the country as part of an ongoing investigation into child exploitation offences.
â€˜This is part of an in-depth investigation and todayâ€™s operation is a response to reports from the community and intelligence gathered about allegations of child exploitation in Margate, Dover, Folkestone and Gravesend. Arrests have also been made in Leeds and Birmingham.
â€˜The protection of children and vulnerable young victims is a key priority for Kent Police and our partner agencies.
â€˜This investigation shows how child protection agencies can work together to protect vulnerable young people and bring those who seek to exploit children to justice.
â€˜Kent Police takes a robust approach in dealing with those involved in the exploitation of children and together with our partner agencies we are united in our approach to safeguarding young people.â€™
Mairead MacNeil, Kent County Councilâ€™s Director of Specialist Children’s Services, said: â€˜Kent County Council is part of a multi-agency team developed to act robustly together in cases of suspected child sexual exploitation. This team, which includes social services, education, health and police, has been working closely together throughout this sensitive and complex operation to keep these vulnerable children and young people safe.
â€˜Our highest priority has been and continues to be the safety and wellbeing of these young people who we will continue to support.â€™