Residents living on a Wearside street have told of the moment police raided a home as part of a probe into human trafficking this morning.
Thirteen arrests have been made across the North East on Anti-Slavery Day, with properties in the Houghton and Washington areas among those searched.
Eight men and five women have been arrested on suspicion of trafficking people into the UK for exploitation, and remain in police custody. The investigation surrounds Polish people.
Police confirmed one person was arrested at a property in Easington Lane following a raid at about 8am today.
A commercial office space in Washington was also searched.
Ten people who are believed by police to be victims of exploitation were discovered during the searches, and have been safeguarded.
A resident who lives near the scene of the raid in High Street, Easington Lane, said: "The raid was going on while parents were dropping their children off at a nearby school.
"Polish people live there, and I think they took one of them away."
Another who did not wish to be named added: "I saw the police tow a car away."
A woman added: "I've seen a lot of people coming and going from that house.
"I was in bed when the police activity was taking place, and didn't know about it until I started to get lots of texts from neighbours.
"I've complained to the authorities about the noise at that property before."
The raids were part of a UK-wide co-ordinated response to identify and arrest those responsible for human trafficking.
Detective Chief Superintendent Scott Hall, of Northumbria Police, said: "It's the type of crime that is largely hidden and takes various guises.
"Essentially, the operation is part of a national effort to tackle modern slavery and forced labour.
"The victims and suspects in this case are all from the Polish community.
"We searched six properties in Newcastle, an address in Durham and a couple in Houghton-le-Spring and Washington.
"The investigation is likely to go into a second day, with searches ongoing."
Detective Superintendent Steve Barron, of Northumbria Police’s Safeguarding Department, said: “This is part of an intelligence-led policing response to a problem that is becoming more apparent across Europe, and it is important that we are robust in our efforts to tackle this type of crime.
“This type of crime forces people through threats or coercion to work for little or no pay, or to pay off outstanding debts.
“The activity carried out has been a truly multi-agency effort that has focused on helping vulnerable people, and the four victims identified have now been taken to places of safety so they can be supported by specialists from partner agencies and our officers.
“Officers are conducting reassurance patrols in the areas where the search warrants have been carried out to keep them informed about the activity in this area.”
Police are working with Newcastle City Council, the National Crime Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, Gangmasters Licensing Authority, British Red Cross, and Hope for Justice as part of the operation.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said: “I welcome and encourage all efforts by Northumbria Police to tackle human trafficking.
“It’s not just something that happens in other countries, it is happening right here in the North East, as these arrests demonstrate, and we must do all we can to help those caught up in such terrible circumstances.
“While there is no typical victim, those who are trafficked are mostly vulnerable, and we must all work together to identify, free and support victims and to bring the criminal traffickers and everyone involved to justice.”
Anyone with concerns about crime and human trafficking where they live should contact their local neighbourhood policing team on 101.