The heirs of Fagan, that, err, weren't.
They were ‘twenty-first century Artful Dodgers’, we were told, a gang of ‘Fagin’s children’ from Romania, who had been trafficked to Slough, England, in order to work like slaves in a ‘pickpocketing and begging crimewave’. The Metropolitan Police launched dawn raids on various ‘slavery dens’ in Slough last Friday; some of the police reportedly wore balaclavas and riot gear and were closely followed by film crews invited along to witness the moment the ‘child slaves’ were liberated. Footage of officers carrying kids from terraced houses was beamed across the news bulletins, as various newspapers declared: ‘Romanian child slaves freed in Slough.’ A Met officer said his team was committed to ‘dismantling crime networks’ and to the ‘rescue of [trafficked] children’ (1).
There was only one problem with this story: it was as fictional as the original Dickensian tale of artful dodgers. The Roma children were not child slaves; of the 10 kids ‘rescued’ in Slough on Friday (one of whom was less than a year old: hardly pickpocketing material), all but one were reunited with their natural parents or guardians the following day (2). No evidence has been discovered to show that the Roma adults in Slough were involved in a ‘criminal gang’ or a ‘child slave ring’ or any other form of serious criminality. Of the 24 adults arrested, 14 have been charged: nine with immigration offences, three with the theft of mobile phones, and two with handling stolen mobile phones… hardly the kind of crimes that require a heavy-handed, camera-flashing raid at five in the morning.
Who honestly would have thought it?