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This week, Operation Vulcan have repurposed and recycled around 40 tonnes of counterfeit clothing they’ve seized since the creation of Operation Vulcan in October this year (2022). This comes as part of a partnership with an organisation who are able to repurpose these items and turn them into something that will benefit the community. For example, the cardboard has been turned into bedding for horses, and the counterfeit clothing has been shredded, turning the fibres into household items - anything unsafe has been destroyed.
People often overlook the severity of counterfeit clothing, perceiving it as a victimless crime. Unfortunately, counterfeiting is just the tip of the iceberg, and simmering below is a much more sinister network of criminal activity, with links to exploitative immigration, modern slavery, and serious organised crime.
GMP’s specialist team of officers making up ‘Operation Vulcan’ have encountered victims of these crimes in their daily patrols in the area, and with the help of a range of local agencies, they’ve been working tirelessly to provide them with the right support.
The multi-agency action plan is targeting six key areas detailed below:
Sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery
The cost of exploited labour in Cheetham Hill means it’s cheaper for businesses in Greater Manchester to transport dirty plates from miles to be cleaned by exploited workers. There’s also a well-established trade in sexual exploitation of women and girls on the streets of Cheetham Hill.
The last 12 months has seen a significant increase in the use of kidnap as a tool to demand payment for illegal immigration. Many people with illegitimate immigration status fall victim of serious crimes, but out of fear of deportation, they rarely report this exploitation to the police.
Young men are being forced to stand on street corners dealing drugs or acting as spotters to close the shops when they see police. Staff working in the counterfeit shops are being paid far below the minimum wage, or not paid at all, working long hours, with some properties even having mattresses as they’re open 24 hours a day.
Much of Cheetham Hill operates on a cash only basis which is then funding serious criminal ventures, including terrorism. So far, Operation Vulcan have seized over £180,000 of cash from these illegitimate businesses.
Serious and violent crime
Intelligence suggests there are 33 organised crime gangs operating in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways. These gangs are bringing serious and violent disorder to the area, with many incidents linked to drug dealing and burglaries.
This area is locally referred to as ’the market’ with the increasing illegal sale of prescription drugs. Recently, a single operation in November resulted in the recovery of over one million tablets of illicit prescription medication.
The dangers these are posing to vulnerable members of the public are devastating. Buying prescription medication on the street can have significant risks as they can contain higher or lower dosages, a completely different drug altogether, or sometimes contains no active drug at all. Sometimes, the drugs being sold are several times more addictive than heroin, and national patterns indicate the death rate is likely to increase unless action is taken.
Working with partners, Operation Vulcan vow to clean up these streets and revive Cheetham Hill and Strangeways.
Detective Superintendent Neil Blackwood, who is leading Operation Vulcan said “We’re in the early days of our fight in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways but already we’re receiving some really positive feedback from members of the community and local, legitimate businesses. For too long, criminals have run riot in these streets, living lavish lifestyles at the expense of vulnerable people, and my team will bring a stop this.
“These first few months have been about disrupting the trade of the illegitimate shops and educating the public of the dangers of shopping here. Not only are the items they’re selling unregulated, the buildings are falling apart, infested with rats, but they’re manned by volatile workers who have weapons stashed and are ready to lock the doors at any given moment, no matter who’s inside.
“From day one, we can already see a difference. 2023 will see an intensification of Operation Vulcan, and we will be targeting every level of criminality in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways, by any means possible."