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Illegal Romanian gamblers operating on the Westminster Bridge just a short distance from the Parliament believing their network would give them enough time by warning of any impending raids were surprised and shocked when a double-decker bus loaded with police officers in uniform and plain clothes jumped out and ambushed the con artists.
These fraudsters have been fleecing tourists and visitors on the bridge.Police borrowed the Arriva London bus for the day, complete with driver, to make the swoop.
The carefully planned operation involved covert tactics and undercover officers mingling with the crowds to spot the ringleaders.
For five hours officers from the Safer Transport Command waited on the bus, codenamed Red One, waiting to strike.
There were numerous false starts while police waited for the gamblers to arrive, and at one point the operation was nearly called off when one group of possible suspects spotted the bus waiting in a side street.
But when finally a police helicopter hovering high overhead, gave orders to go the bus was caught in heavy traffic half way round Parliament Square. However, the con artists were taken unawares when the bus pulled up on the bridge at about 5.30 last night. More than 25 Romanians were detained and 12 were charged with gaming offences. Among those held on the bridge was a woman with a young baby in a pram. She was later released.
Officers recovered hundreds of pounds in cash and several gaming sets. As many as nine gangs playing fraudulent dice or ‘three card trick’ games have been seen operating on the bridge in recent weeks.
Undercover officers have watched as tourists have been fleeced for hundreds of pounds. One American tourist lost $200 in 90 seconds.
Police have struggled to arrest the gangs using conventional tactics because they could scatter within seconds. MPs had demanded action, saying the gangs were blighting London’s image.
In a pre-raid briefing Sgt Darin Birmingham, who masterminded the operation, said London was suffering from Crime coming from Eastern Europe and it had to stop. With people coming to Olympics wanting a nice trip it had to be ensured that they were not ripped off.
Later he said the operation was a huge success which would and has sent a strong message to the gangs who fleeced tourists that they would not be tolerated in London. Police would be on the streets every day to check them.
He added that the action was appreciated by the people who wanted to see such action by the police.
Chief Supt John Sutherland said the Crimes were committed by individuals but being orchestrated by organised criminal networks. The police were targeting criminals at the top as well as the bottom of these networks.