A CHILD welfare investigation has been launched after it was revealed youngsters were forced to work a field in near freezing temperatures.

As reported in your Worcester News yesterday, eight children aged between nine and 15 were taken into protective custody by West Mercia Police after a raid on a field in Kempsey, near Worcester, on Wednesday morning.

Two were immediately released to responsible adults and the other six have been returned to their families in Sandwell, West Midlands.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has now begun a child welfare investigation.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) led the operation, with backup from West Mercia Police officers.

The GLA said they wanted to speak to a man in connection with the case, although nobody has been arrested.

The children were part of a 50-strong group of Romanians who had no licensed gangmaster on site.

The field off the A38 is owned by Kempsey family the Ansteys and managed by John Anstey, but the land is rented to a third party grower, the GLA confirmed.

A GLA spokesman said when they arrived the temperature was “near freezing point” adding “the workers and children were not dressed adequately to protect themselves from the cold conditions”.

A smaller group of Indian onion pickers did have a licensed gangmaster.

The Romanian youngsters were put in temporary care with Worcestershire County Council but are all from Sandwell.

Sandwell’s borough council have now launched a child protection investigation into the youngsters’ welfare Councillor Bob Badham, the borough council’s children and families chief, said the children had been returned to their families as it was in their “best interests” currently.

“We will now conduct a formal investigation and will be working with the families to safeguard the children’s health and well-being,” he added.

Harriett Baldwin, West Worcestershire MP, said she had been shocked children “were being made to work in this way”.

“However, I know that many farmers depend on foreign labour to work on their farms and I urge them to take all steps, both legally and morally, to ensure that people who work on their land are legal and treated fairly.

“If any farmer has a suspicion that workers are not legal, they must inform the proper authorities.”

West Mercia Police said officers usually attended such raids as part of “standard procedure” in case of any disturbances, but there had been no trouble on the site during the operation on Wednesday.