Three men who are believed to be victims of slavery have been taken to a place of safety following a series of raids by UK police.
Officers from Avon and Somerset Police executed a series of warrants as part of Operation Wanderer, an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking.
The operation involved three traveller sites, a business unit and house in South Gloucestershire, and a residential property in Bristol.
Three alleged male victims, one aged in his 30s, one in his 40s and one in his 50s, have been taken to a place of safety by police.
Two people have been arrested in connection with slavery offences, while five others have been detained on suspicion of offences including failing to appear, cannabis production, money laundering and handling stolen goods.
A “significant quantity” of cash was found at one address, while a suspected stolen trailer and cannabis plants were seized from a farm in Somerset.
Chief Superintendent Julian Moss, head of CID at Avon and Somerset Police, said the force had launched an investigation into forced labour and human trafficking five weeks ago.
“This is an ongoing and dynamic inquiry; our primary aim is to safeguard and protect vulnerable victims,” Mr Moss said.
“We know from talking with other police forces and charities such as Unseen that victims in such cases are often forced to live and work in poor and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with little or no pay. Some of those affected will not view themselves as victims and, even if they do, may have been unable to speak to the police or any other authorities for a variety of reasons.
“To the outside world the fear and intimidation faced by victims of forced labour on a daily basis are difficult to comprehend. Today’s operation is a very visible statement of our intent to protect people from this type of exploitation.”
The force planned the operation with South Gloucestershire Council, the South Gloucestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and specialist charities, including anti-trafficking organisation Unseen, the Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Special arrangements have been put in place to support the alleged victims with medical treatment, accommodation, employment and welfare, the police said. The Salvation Army will also be working with the men.
Mr Moss added: “I understand this morning’s operation may be of concern to local residents and the wider travelling community. It’s important to recognise that the actions of a small minority of people are not reflective of the wider travelling community.
“Similar investigations in other parts of the country show the issue of forced labour, domestic servitude and human trafficking is prevalent in many areas of society.
“We are very grateful for the support and professional expertise of charities and voluntary organisations including the Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Unseen, who have helped shape and plan this operation from the outset.
“I would appeal to members of the public to come forward with information about this specific investigation or about anyone they suspect of being a victim of forced labour or exploitation. Please talk to us, as every piece of information will help.
“If you yourself are a victim please talk to us, we can help protect and keep you safe.”
Amanda Deeks, chief executive of South Gloucestershire Council, said the authority had worked “closely” with police through the investigation.
“Our focus is to ensure that the victims will be given the help they need now that they are in a place of safety,” she said.
Kate Garbers, co-founder of Unseen, said: “The police had intelligence and wanted to act on it. Unseen were able to use their involvement in previous operations along with their experience of working with survivors to help develop that response.
“It’s encouraging to see such a proactive approach from the police and to be involved in a multi-agency approach. From working with the police I commend their in-depth approach to planning, and it’s clear that they appreciate the seriousness of these crimes and are taking action.
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Today’s operation clearly highlights the unacceptable and illegal crime of human trafficking.
“It shows that modern slavery is happening around us and I am pleased that the police, local authorities, and the charity Unseen UK have worked together to tackle and disrupt this abhorrent network of criminality. It is only by agencies and local communities working together that this crime against humanity will be stamped out.
“There will be a long road to recovery for the victims and I am reassured that they are getting as much support as possible from Unseen, local authorities, health organisations and the police.”