Raid unearths illegal workers on onion farm in Kempsey

Children as young as nine years old have been found working illegally in a swoop conducted by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) and West Mercia police on an onion farm in the Kempsey area of Worcestershire.

Seven children between the ages of nine and 15 were taken into care during the raid on 20 October. Around 50 Romanians were working on the fields. No licensed gangmaster was present and the police are still looking for a man who was operating as a gangmaster.

The GLA reported that the Romanians were suffering appalling conditions. Despite freezing weather, they had flimsy clothing such as cotton skirts and sandals. They were transported in a box van with a settee in the back and, according to a GLA representative, were paid below the minimum farm wage.

Some of the children - two boys and five girls - were accompanied by parents, but others were not. The children have all now been reunited with their parents, most of whom are based in Birmingham.

A representative for the GLA pointed out that arrests have become more frequent. On 22 October, West Midlands police arrested three men for the unlicensed supply of labour.

Some of the workers were also harvesting spring onions. Thirty officers, as well as members of the GLA, took part in the operation in the Oldbury area. The arrested men are on bail.

In another incident, the GLA swooped on illegally employed staff on a herb farm in the Midlands. The GLA said several similar cases were still being investigated.

A GLA representative said the Romanians at Kempsey were being treated as innocent victims in the affair. "We know the name of one man whom the police want to interview. We don't intend to bring any prosecutions until we've found him," he added.

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