THE importance of police co-operation across the European Union has been highlighted by a successful Europe-wide operation which has discovered five suspected human trafficking victims in Scotland.

Co-ordinated by Europol, which the UK might have to leave in the event of a No-Deal Brexit, the crackdown on human trafficking and modern slavery in June saw 44 arrests in the UK, with six arrests in Scotland. Three children were among those who officers believe were being exploited, one of them sexually.

Checks at homes, businesses and Stansted Airport were carried out as part of the week-long operation co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and involving 18 police forces.

Europol co-ordinated activity across 16 EU states, as well as Iceland and Switzerland, with more than 200 potential victims identified. Information gathered during the operation has led to the launch of 20 new police investigations.

More than 127,000 individuals, 63,800 vehicles and 1,100 locations were checked.

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Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal, head of public protection at Police Scotland, said: “Trafficking and exploitation is a blight on our communities. Victims are often vulnerable, they may be trapped with limited freedom or options.

“Eliminating all forms of trafficking and exploitation and protecting people from harm continues to be one of Police Scotland’s top priorities. We will continue to use focused days of action to disrupt and identify those who control, abuse and exploit others, to bring them to justice and to restrict their activities.

“And we will continue to target criminals working with partners, including the NCA, to bring offenders to justice, and to raise public awareness to help identify victims and ensure they get the support they need.”