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Organised Immigration Crime

The summer of 2022 saw the highly publicised arrival of migrants crossing the channel on small boats. Amongst those migrants were a significant number of children. These children were housed in hotels on the south coast, including at one hotel in Eastbourne and one in Hove.

Over those summer months several of these unaccompanied child migrants went missing from the hotels. There was a concern that these children were being exploited, and that there was a level of organisation behind that exploitation.

The TOEX Response

The TOEX team, within the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), had just been established, and took this operation on as their first job. The overarching aim was to establish if there was organised exploitation of these missing children.

As a starting point, the team planned to wash all the available data for commonality, produce subject profiles for those of particular interest, and focus on a number of missing children who had been found in exploitative circumstances.

Between the two hotels more than 160 children were reported as missing. As part of routine enquiries, the local force had submitted data requests for a large proportion of those missing. In addition, several individuals had also been arrested generating additional material.

The volume of data available was the single biggest challenge for this operation. To progress, the team needed to identify, collect, and review this and plug any gaps which may exist.

In one case, a child migrant was suspected of recruiting other children at the hotel for illegal activities. He was observed interacting with other persons in a suspicious manner. He was arrested and whilst the investigation team focused on the offences surrounding him, TOEX looked at links with organised exploitation.

Detailed analytical reports were able to link him to other persons suspected of being involved. Together with subject profiles, and engagement with other ROCUs this highlighted a potential OCG in another part of the country.

Whilst this operation was being progressed the plight of the missing children became national news. A number of media outlets ran stories commenting on the high number of missing children from these hotels, that many were still missing, and in some cases stated that children had been kidnapped. The coverage led to the issue being debated at Prime Minister’s questions in Parliament.

In turn, this increase in national scrutiny led to regular Gold Group meetings with the superintendent heading the force side of the enquiries. During these meetings the SE TOEX team provided regular updates for their work, and what had been uncovered to date.

This operation is now drawing to a close. Many data requests have been submitted, together with subject profiles, liaison with multiple police forces, collection and review of seized phone data, liaison with law enforcement agencies outside the UK, intelligence reports as well as analytical reports to help understand the situation.

Detective Sergeant Alan Poland from the SE TOEX team said: “The input from TOEX has been beneficial to the local force, as through our work we have helped the local force demonstrate they are taking all proportionate steps to address the issue and we have provided them with detailed analytical and intelligence reports."

“As we draw the investigation to an end, we will look to provide a detailed closure report covering our findings and general thematic trends to assist with any future incidents. We will score the new OCG (uncovered as part of our work, but not linked to organised exploitation of children) and break out additional intel logs.

“This was our first operation and as well as assisting the local police force, we have created and streamlined working practices, which will make future operations smoother and more efficient.”