PROSTITUTES travelling from the mainland UK have rented guest rooms in Cookstown to carry out the sex trade, it has been claimed.
The allegation comes after a top PSNI Chief revealed that a number of searches in the Cookstown area had been carried out into investigating human trafficking and prostitution.
Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall, from the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch, made the revelation during an event in Mid-Ulster last week aimed at raising awareness of what he said was a growing problem which was generating “huge criminal benefit” for the gangs involved.
This week a former hotel worker spoke to the Mid-Ulster Mail claiming prostitutes have regularly jetted into Northern Ireland to use pre-booked hotel rooms in Cookstown to meet clients.
The source, who did not want to be named, said suspicions were raised at one hotel after an English woman booked a room on a number of different dates.
It was put under surveillance after staff observed various men by-passing reception and visiting the room at different times of the day.
“It was on a regular basis,” the one-time hotel employee told the MAIL.
“One particular woman who was English checked in and a short time later a man would arrive.
“He would leave, another would arrive and it was constant. The men would always by-pass reception and go straight up to the room. It was obviously all pre-arranged though whatever network they would use.
They continued: “Suspicions were soon raised and staff were quick to put the room under surveillance.
“Some of the men leaving the hotel were stopped and asked by management what room they were staying at - but they didn’t stick around long enough to answer. They bolted.”
“The woman was spoken to as well, and she never returned after that.
“Apparently she had tried to check into a couple of other hotels in the area in dates after that, but they had already been tipped off and she was turned away.”
Last week Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall told local representatives, including community workers and MLA’s at a special meeting that the issue of human trafficking and prostitution was very much present in County Tyrone.
“We have carried out investigations into human trafficking and prostitution in Co Tyrone within the last twelve to eighteen months.
Recently we have carried out searches in a number of locations across Northern Ireland, including Dungannon and Cookstown.”
He added: “Prostitution is here in County Tyrone. It is organised crime and huge criminal benefit is being made from this in Tyrone.”
During his presentation to the audience, DS Marshall explained that, since April 2011, some 26 people have been recovered by police investigating human trafficking.
Among those 26, 18 had been victims of sexual exploitation and, according to DS Marshall, that figure is “only the tip of the iceberg”.
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Appealing to the audience members to help raise awareness of the issue throughout the community,
DS Marshall said there was a need for police and local organisations to work together to debate and educate others about the problems facing those victims.
DS Marshall continued: “Dungannon and Tyrone have a large and vibrant ethnic community from various parts of Europe and other countries. There are approximately 6,000 migrant workers here now.
“Potentially, there are a lot of individuals who will have been victims of exploitation, but there are more out there.”
Meanwhile, the issue of human trafficking was raised during a sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly recently, when the Justice Minister, David Ford, outlined the assistance available to people who are rescued from such situations.
Mr Ford said that service includes safe and appropriate accommodation, help with day-to-day living and travel costs, information in a language victims can understand, help to access healthcare and other services around support, immigration, advice and counselling.
The support service is provided by Women’s Aid and Migrant Helpline.
All child victims of trafficking are entitled to the full range of services afforded to ‘looked after children’ under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.