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25 JAN 2008

Police wrongly remove children from Romanian families

Last week, police removed 10 youngsters suspected of being trafficked to the UK by organised gangs.

On Thursday morning around 400 police officers wearing body armour carried out 17 raids at addresses in Slough. They arrested 24 Romanian nationals in an operation aimed at breaking up a suspected child-smuggling ring.

However all but one of the children has been returned to the Roma community in Slough and none of those arrested has been charged with child trafficking offences.

The media were invited to accompany the police officers and photos of the children appeared on TV and in national newspapers the next day with headlines referring to Fagin's heirs" and "child slaves". The negative news stories about the Romanian community as a result of the raids and the police media briefings uncovered hidden prejudices in society and damaged the public perception of Romanian people.

Commander Steve Allen, who led the operation, said at the time: "With promises of a financial return, some poor families surrender their children who are subsequently forced to commit crime."

Explaining the police failure of the to charge anyone with a child trafficking offence, Allen said: "I'm not able to see into the future. I didn't know exactly who and what we were going to find in those addresses."

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