Four people have been arrested after a Gateshead factory was raided this morning (Wednesday) as part of an investigation into modern day slavery.
Northumbria Police raided the factory, based off Nest Road on the banks of the River Tyne, after receiving concerns about the welfare of staff employed there.
Following a health and safety visit to a connected premises, concerns were reported to police and officers began to carry out enquiries into the business.
This morning they carried out a raid at the property and four men - aged 42, 41, 40 and 29 - have been arrested on suspicion of offences under the Modern Day Slavery Act. They currently remain in police custody.
An estimated 90 employees have now been taken to a reception centre where they will be spoken to by officers to establish if they are victims of exploitation.
Inspector Michael Robson, of the Gateshead Central Neighbourhood Policing Team, has been leading the investigation and said safeguarding vulnerable people is "our top priority".
He said: "This has been a significant operation and now we will take time to speak to all the employees at factory to establish if any criminal offences have been committed.
"It is possible that up to 90 victims of exploitation and modern day slavery may have been safeguarded thanks to some great work between police and partners.
"That is a huge positive and emphasises the fact the safeguarding vulnerable people is our top priority here in Northumbria Police.
“I know that Gateshead Council are committed to that same goal and they have been vital to the success of today’s operation.
"I have no doubt that residents in Gateshead will be shocked to hear about suspected slavery offences on their doorstep but this type of offending does exist.
"There are individuals out there who are trafficking workers into this country and exploiting them for their own financial benefit and we will work hard to put that to a stop.
"We need everyone to be alive to the fact that people are being put into servitude in our local communities. Everyone has a role to play in helping to stop this offending.
"If you have concerns that a person or group of people may have be victims of slavery then please contact police or ring the Modern Slavery helpline. Your action could end up saving a life."
The reception centre has been facilitated by Gateshead Council, the Gangland Masters Labour Abuse Authority and the British Red Cross are also there to offer any support to the employees.
British Red Cross operations manager for emergency response in the North of England, Robert Colburn, said: “The Red Cross has been asked by Gateshead Council and Northumbria Police to provide practical and emotional support to anyone evacuated as a result of this operation, in a place of safety.
“Our trained staff and volunteers have been on hand to provide emotional support, as well as practical necessities such as clothing, refreshments and first aid.
“The Red Cross works alongside emergency services across the UK to help those in crisis.”
Anyone who has information that may assist the police investigation, or anyone who has information about Modern Day Slavery, is asked to call police on 101 quoting log 140 24/04/19.
You can also report information online at www.northumbria.police.uk or call the Modern Slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.