EXCLUSIVE: Undercover cops paid prostitutes to 'not have sex' during probe into 'major brothel ring'
POLICE officers paid suspected trafficked prostitutes "not to have sex with them" during an undercover operation, a court was told.
Westminster Magistrates' Court heard details of how the Met Police has investigated a suspected brothel ring called Cloud 9 operating across several locations in Westminster using women trafficked from China and Romania.
DC Peter Eddy, who is leading the investigation, said officers would establish what sexual services were on offer, before paying the agreed sum, and then making their excuses and leaving without engaging in any activity. .
This was so as to not arouse the suspicions of the brothel operators, who may have otherwise thought the girl had stolen the money, putting them at risk.
'FULL SERVICE: A screen grab from the Clod 9 website (Cloud 9)
DC Eddy said: "Part of the brief is to assess the availability of sexual services.
"They give them the money to reduce any risk to the victims." A female undercover officer also contacted the suspected brothel owners enquiring about being a sex worker. At a subsequent meeting she was introduced to an Italian suspect who was "responsible for the European girls," he said. The details emerged during a landmark hearing after the Met Police applied for five suspects, who were arrested in April, but not charged, to be placed under slavery and trafficking risk orders (STRO) to "prevent them from running brothels and trafficking women" while the investigation continues. Judge Samuel Goozee agreed to put the orders against three of them - Jie Zhang, 39, her partner at the time Qitao Xu, 30, and the Italian suspect Italian Giulia Manzo, 30.
DC Eddy said the trio were part of a ring running brothels from plush properties across London, including one near Buckingham Palace and others in Airbnb properties. The group is said to have exploited trafficked women from China and Romania, taking up to 60 percent of their earnings. Westminster Magistrates' Court heard the group was running brothels from at least 14 flats in plush parts of London, Airbnb lets, and a visiting escort service.The three can be named after Judge Goozee lifted reporting restrictions preventing their identification, following representations from Essex News and Investigations and other media. The court heard the Met launched a probe after women allegedly trafficked into prostitution by the group left pleas for help written on postcards left in a communal letter box area of a flat in Buckingham Palace Road just a few hundred metres from the Queen's palace. The note, found by a resident said: "Help save me, I am from China. "Flat is a black brothel they cheat me from China, to work as sex slave in England. "They take me from Paddington to work in there. The gang's name is Cloud9. "The gang controls many girls in London... please help me to call police."
Judge Goozee declined to grant two of them against a Chinese woman, 68, and another Chinese woman, 31, who was a former sex worker who allegedly climbed the ladder. DC Eddy told the court the brothels masquerading as massage parlours around Westminster offered sex as "full services" and suspects used proceeds to make purchases at Harrods and Louis Vuitton. High value purchases were also sent to China to launder illicit earnings, while around £100,000 was spent on Addison Lee fares for trafficked sex workers, he said. Seven addresses, including four massage parlours suspected of operating as brothels, were raided across London in Apri, while a Gloucestershire hotel was also searched with a Rolls Royce and a Bentley confiscated. DC Eddy said a Mandarin speaking officer had accompanied them during the raids. He said that such investigations proved difficult in the past as many trafficked women were reluctant to cooperate. Barnaby Hone, representing one of the Chinese women suspects, said the application had only been made by the force because it had been unable to secure bail conditions after releasing them without charge. He argued that the force had only identified one victim who alleged to have been trafficked. He said: "So you tell them to look for victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking? The test purchasers look like they pay for sex but leave before doing it "The use of the term full service can just mean a full massage, do you disagree?" The police investigation continues.
WHY WE COULD NAME THE SUSPECTS
At the start of the case in June Judge Goozee made an order preventing publication of the names of the five suspects.
At the point of releasing his judgement, the judge heard representations from the press, including Essex News and Investigations, about lifting those orders.
Lawyers for the suspects argued the reporting restriction should remain in place.
But, we argued it was in the public interest for full details to come out as more victims could come forward and it could act as a deterrent to others.
Judge Goozee wrote: "Having handed down judgment, I received submissions on behalf of the press
for reporting restrictions to be lifted.
"I have also heard submissions on behalf of the respondents seeking for the orders to remain in place.
"The police investigation is ongoing and it remains unclear whether or if a criminal prosecution will be forthcoming. I cannot be satisfied there are any other proceedings 'pending or imminent'.
"The general rule is that the administration of justice must be done in public, the public and the media have a right to attend all court hearings and the media has a duty to report proceedings fairly, accurately and
"The open justice principle is central to the rule of law.
"Now that I have heard the evidence and made my findings I accept in this case there are matters of high public interest involved.
"Fair and accurate reporting of these proceedings may be a deterrent, will protect potential victims from
sexual exploitation and raise public awareness."