More than 20 officers from Hampshire Constabulary – as well as representatives from South Central Ambulance Service and the Home Office – were part of the shoreline stake-out near the Kench at 4pm.
The operation was the result of four months of work, with a ‘significant’ number of residents reporting groups of up to 40 people on the beach as several times a week, according to Richard Burgess, lead officer on the operation for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.
Although no one was arrested or rescued last night, the leader office said the operation had made an impact: ‘I am satisfied that our response has had a significant impact upon the disruption of a wider organised crime picture and in doing so we have taken a direct approach to safeguarding the public and the concerns of the community.
‘Locally, we are satisfied that the criminals will see the scale of the deployment in their own backyard, and that potential victims will be aware that help is available through such collaborative actions.’
A police boat was used to block any traffickers fleeing by water through the gap separating Eastney and Hayling Island, while drones with thermal imaging monitored the area.
Police commandeered a nearby property to use as a rescue centre for the victims of trafficking – with similar operations in the last year seeing children as young as 14 months recovered from stings against forced shellfish harvesting.
It comes as more than 30 operations targeting modern slavery are planned for the south east area over the next ten days, as ‘spring tide’ – a period when tides reach their lowest – is set to attract gangmasters and forced labour to the shoreline.
Gangs can make up to £14,000 for one and a half tonnes of illegally gathered shellfish – with some of the produce potentially used in restaurants across the Portsmouth region, according to Richard.
He added: ‘It’s seen as a very profitable trade and it has become more widespread during lockdown.’
In June, around 40 people were detained and processed at Hill Head Sailing Club by immigration officers.
Last year Hampshire police dealt with 195 cases of modern slavery.