September 2 2014 Latest news:

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Eastern European beggars who use children to collect money from tourists around Edgware Road are being targeted in a major new police operation.

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More than 30 people have been given a free coach ride back to Romania after the launch of Operation Chefornak earlier this year.

The crackdown has seen the Metropolitan Police join forces with border officials, Westminster Council and Romanian police as they bid to reduce what has become a prolific problem in the area.

The Wood&Vale joined a multi-agency team on Thursday last week in the streets around Edgware Road, Marylebone and the West End, aiming to disrupt the beggars.

Four heavily pregnant young women from Eastern Europe were arrested in Oxford Street after being spotted begging, while a wanted male beggar was arrested for an earlier alleged sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl.

Sgt Diana Hurd, who led the operation, said the priority was the welfare of the children who are being allegedly exploited.

She said the Roma gypsies split broadly into three groups – rough sleepers who beg; organised groups who travel into Westminster from homes in the suburbs, and people involved in other criminality such as street gambling and stealing.

“The lives that the Roma have had has been pretty horrendous,” said Sgt Hurd.

“I don’t think they came here thinking the pavements are paved with gold, but they just come here in the hope that it is a little bit better.”

During last week’s day of action 13 people were arrested, taking the total to more than 30 in the three months since the operation was launched.

“There’s an awful amount of work going on and it has been extremely successful,” said Sgt Hurd.

Last year Insp Michael Wright told the Wood&Vale that professional beggars are targeting the Middle Eastern community in Edgware Road.

“They have learned over the years and changed their costumes,” he said.

“Nowadays they wear headscarves and make themselves look more Arabic, so that they make it hard for the Arabic community to see that they are in fact Romanian.”

While that practice has continued, police say the beggars have now added new tricks, including pretending to busk, scamming tourists through street gambling and impersonating police officers.

Romanian ambassador to the UK, Ion Junga, said he is fully supportive of the police operation.

“We have excellent cooperation with the Metropolitan Police and together we have agreed an action plan in order to reduce the Romanian criminality in London,” he said.

“If there are Romanian perpetrators, they have to be caught by the police and they have to be punished.”

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