TWELVE people have been arrested on suspicion of modern-day slavery offences as law enforcement agencies launch a crackdown on “foreign national offenders”.

Operation Kestrel, the biggest operation of its kind seen in the region, began with a series of early morning raids yesterday on eight addresses in the west of Newcastle and one address in Consett, County Durham.

The two-week operation involves the region’s three police forces – Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria – working alongside Immigration Enforcement, Border Force, the North East Regional Special Operations Unit, the Department Work Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.

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The Northern Echo: Police check a property during this morning's raids

Northumbria Police's Assistant Chief Constable Helen McMillan, who is leading activities said: "The majority of people who come from abroad to live in the UK are honest, law abiding citizens and we welcome the diversity and value that brings to our communities.

“Unfortunately, there will always be a minority who choose to be unlawful whether that be for financial gain or simple disregard for the law.

"The purpose of Operation Kestrel and this two-week activity is to target the minority who purposefully come to the UK to flout the law or commit crime while they are here.

“And as we would with any criminals, we are joining forces with our partners to provide a robust and proportionate response and utilise the powers that we have as law enforcement agencies to make the region even safer.

"During this activity we will also be focussing on any UK citizens and foreign nationals who may be a vulnerable victim of these criminals with our priority to safeguard and protect those who may be a victim of modern day slavery and human trafficking."

Immigration Enforcement director Eddy Montgomery said: “Illegal immigration cuts across the work of a number of Government agencies. It impacts not just on the community but economy as well.

“This will enable us to us to develop a wider intelligence picture.”

He added: “Our key priorities will be illegal working, rogue landlords, modern slavery and identifying those who have no right to be in the UK, ranging from from low-level offenders to serious criminality.

“Illegal working encourages illegal migration, undercuts legitimate businesses, by illegal cost cutting activity and is often associated with exploitative behaviour like tax evasion and harmful working conditions.”