Trafficking probe at Heathrow leaves 12 children unaccounted for

Social services departments have been unable to trace 12
children identified as potential victims of child trafficking in a
police-led investigation.

The three-month study, named Operation Paladin Child, examined the
migration of children into the UK through Heathrow Airport.

Although it did not discover significant numbers of children being
trafficked, operation investigators are still trying to find 12
children who social services departments have been unable to locate
due to false addresses being given.

In response to the investigation, the Metropolitan Police has
announced a specialist team working to help identify trafficked
children entering the UK through London.

The Ports Safeguarding Team will provide 24-hour specialist child
protection advice and support to officials at Heathrow Airport,
London Waterloo Eurostar and Lunar House Asylum Screening Unit in

The investigation identified 1,738 children from non-EU countries
travelling without their parents or legal guardians and passed on
the details of 551 to social services for further investigation.
Social workers then visited the addresses given for the

The study, a Met initiative involving the NSPCC, immigration and
social services was conducted between August and November 2003. It
resulted in three children being placed on the child protection

Carron Somerset, acting campaigns co-ordinator at End Child
Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for
Sexual Purposes UK, said there was a “possibility” the missing 12
children had been trafficked and that if the figure was multiplied
it could represent almost 50 children in a year.

Somerset also questioned the ability of social workers to identify
whether children have been trafficked. “Do they know what to look
for when they get to the house?”

Research conducted by Somerset on the way London social services
deal with child trafficking, also published this week, finds that
many social workers felt they needed more information on child
trafficking and could have missed cases in the past.

The Paladin team also fears that, as immigration officers have only
limited powers to screen European passport holders in the UK, the
expansion of the EU may make child trafficking easier.

– Cause for Concern? London Social Services and Child

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