On Sunday 18 December 2022, while Operation Vulcan officers were on patrol in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways, they witnessed a man acting suspiciously trying to close the shutters of a premises on Great Ducie Street.
The officers detained a man in his 60s and unlocked the doors, when a group of customers ran out.
Once inside, officers found more members of the public locked inside a further three rooms on the second and third floor. They’d been locked in against their will when the man had spotted the police.
An initial search of the property found excessive amounts of rat urine and faeces littered across the building, including on the shelves and all over clothing, underwear and make up that was being sold at the store.
In the basement, officers could not see the floor for boxes and bags full of items which would be sold after being stored in unsanitary conditions. Officers discovered incredibly dangerous infrastructure and signs of exploitative labour, including an underground homemade air conditioning system the staff had made by drilling holes into the pipes on the ceiling.
The Operation Vulcan team began a thorough search of the building, and two days later, they’re just finishing bagging items. So far, an estimated 20 tonnes of replica clothing, shoes, perfumes and make up have been seized.
Colleagues from Manchester City Council Trading Standards and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service were also in attendance offering support.
Detective Superintendent Neil Blackwood said: “The state of this building was disgusting and so structurally unsafe. My team found members of the public trapped on the top floor with no means of escape.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to rescue members of the public from these buildings, but I urge people to think twice about entering these shops. With our presence increasing, the shop owners are becoming increasingly nervous and quick to lock the doors, no matter who is inside.
“By entering these shops, not only are you putting yourself in danger and at risk of the volatile staff, but you’re funding serious organised crime which is having a devastating impact on the local community.
“These people do not care for your welfare; they’re simply trying to make some quick cash.”
David Minto, Protection Manager at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We’re working in partnership with Greater Manchester Police on Op Vulcan and our Fire Safety Officers are conducting fire safety inspections within the premises they’re raiding. Our fire safety inspectors attended this property and deemed it so unsafe, a prohibition notice has been served. Together we’re working hard to rid Greater Manchester of this illegal and dangerous activity that blights communities.”