FIVE people have been arrested on suspicion of modern slavery after police raided a property. 

At least eight people, who are believed to be victims of labour exploitation, were found.

Officers executed search warrants today and made five arrests at two residential addresses, one in St Leonards and one in Hastings.

This is part of an investigation into alleged modern slavery involving people from Eastern Europe working in care homes in East Sussex and Kent.

The operation is the biggest and most complex of its kind so far in Sussex.

In St Leonards they arrested two women aged 32 and 28, and a man aged 37.

In Hastings officers arrested a woman aged 24 and a man aged 26.

All were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery and are currently in custody for interview and further enquiries.

Officers found a number of men and women in three other properties, eight of whom have been taken to a special reception centre set up by partners from local multi-agency Project Discovery.

They are being treated as victims of crime and are being assessed to establish their employment, housing and any related welfare needs.

Partner organisations supporting the police operation include King's Church, Stop the Traffik, the local authority housing team, the National Crime Agency and staff from East Sussex Adult Social Care and the Salvation Army.

Project Discovery brings together local police officers, fire officers, the Stop the Traffik Hastings coordinator, King's Church and staff from Hastings and Rother Councils, Department of Work and Pensions, the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority, immigration and local charities.

Natalie Williams from King’s Church, who chaired the Hastings Anti-Trafficking Hub that led to the formation of the Discovery Project, said: "Modern slavery is surely one of the most heinous crimes one person can commit against another.

"It’s effectively stealing someone’s identity, worth, time and choices. In the last two years or so, since we started working with police and other partners, more than 200 people involved in modern slavery have been identified in Hastings and Rother.

"This number should shock us, not least of all because it’s likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Detective Sergeant Sophie McGarel said: "This investigation focuses on allegations under the Modern Slavery Act that a locally-based employment agency has been employing people, mainly from Romania, charging them for inadequate training, housing them in inadequate accommodation, charging them excessive rent and placing them as care staff in local care homes.

"It is also alleged that the agency fails to pay them the legal minimum wage.

"We believe that thousands of pounds have been paid to the agency by care homes for staff and that these funds have been illegally withheld from the employees."

Police emphasise there is no evidence that the care homes, all of which are properly registered and lawfully operated are subjects of this investigation.

The employees involved are not engaged in the direct medical care of any residents at the homes.