Police have been warned that criminal activity involving clothing collected by charities is widespread across the UK, following recent regional enforcement activity.
Umbrella body the Textiles Recycling Association has written to Northumbria Police commending a raid it undertook yesterday where it arrested seven Lithuanian people operating a charity collection business in the North East as part of an investigation into modern slavery.
Ian Woods, president of the TRA, sent an email to superintendent Steve Barron yesterday, warning of “criminal activity also involving Lithuanian gangs in other parts of the country which involves theft of used clothing from textile banks belonging to several of our members”.
“The TRA is aware of a litany of thefts across a wide area of the country and recently two Lithuanians were arrested and prosecuted in Luton Magistrates Court. Like the syndicate in the North East, these men had been trafficked into the UK and were forced to take part in these thefts to pay off their debts,” he says.
Woods calls for more collaboration between police forces and the involvement of the national crime agency in efforts to tackle the issue.
He adds: “The TRA is campaigning for greater enforcement against illegal gangs – we are concerned about not only the theft but also trafficking, money laundering and VAT fraud.
“These gangs are depriving charities and our members of thousands of pounds of income as well as leading to the public becoming disillusioned about the whole ethos of donating second hand clothes.”
'Renewed reports of gangs targeting collection banks'
In a separate statement, Alan Wheeler, director of the TRA, said: “We have also received renewed reports of gangs targeting used clothing collection banks. They routinely steal clothing from the banks using a variety of methods.
“Many of the clothing banks in question raise money for well-known national or local charities and in some instances the money goes to the local authorities.
“In other words, not only are these thieves jeopardising the livelihoods of the people who work for the clothing bank operators by putting their jobs under threat, but they are also stealing from charities or the taxpayer."
Wheeler said his organisation had reported any such instances it was aware of to the police.
Northumbria Police's arrests, however, were focused on suspected trafficking and modern day slavery.
It has yet to determine whether any fraudulent behavious or theft was being committed by those arrested.
In October, Essex Police reported that its officers had executed a modern slavery warrant in partnership with British Red Cross, RSPCA, HMRC, Immigration and Braintree Council.
However, unlike in Northumbria Police’s raid, it did not make any arrests.
It said in a statement at the time: “They checked the location and 20 individuals were spoken with and identification was checked. There were not any victims of human trafficking or forced labour identified as a result of these visits.”