Slough is famous for two things - a damning piece of poetry, "Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough, it isn't fit for humans now", and as the dystopian location for The Office.

Between John Betjeman and David Brent the place doesn't impinge much on the national consciousness but in the past week it has became the setting for a parable about modern Britain. There are only seven basic plot lines, so it's inevitable that this fable relied on an earlier work of fiction.

First the facts - at early dawn on Thursday, January 24, 400 police officers shoulder-charged their way into 17 addresses in Slough and discovered 68 Roma children sleeping within, 10 of whom they took into care.

The media were invited along (well, I wasn't) to record the officers as they carried the poor, pixillated children to apparent safety. The headlines had been written before the first door was smashed down. This was a raid, the police briefed, to rescue gypsy children, who were of Romanian nationality, who had been trafficked into the UK by unscrupulous adults for a life of juvenile crime.

These were, we were told on the front page of the London newspapers, the modern-day Artful Dodgers, trained to deprive you of your mobile phone and wallet quicker than it would take to ask for more gruel.

The story, from then on, was a rewrite of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist with which, in its musical and televisual style, if not its original literary form, we are all familiar.

We have, incidentally, in these last three sentences slipped into fiction because it emerged later in the week that all but one of the nine children taken into custody has been returned to the Roma community in Slough and none of the 24 adults arrested at the scene has been charged with child-trafficking offences. Some were charged with minor immigration offences and three were charged with handling stolen mobile phones. One, 25-year-old Gheorge Mazarxhes, was jailed for eight weeks after he admitted handling a stolen phone. It looks, at the very least, that there might have been a misunderstanding.

The furious Roma adults in Slough, where there is a long-established Romanian community, insist that in extended gypsy families it is common for children not to live with their parents. It's bad enough, they say, to be stigmatised across Europe as thieves without being tarred as child traffickers too.

The Romanians are puzzled as to why they cannot get proper access to those arrested - 15 Britons detained in a suburb of Bucharest would have a UK counsel within 24 hours - and also why the police made such a hoo-ha about the operation. They suspect that the raid was not so much about disrupting a child trafficking ring in Britain and more about the irresistible lure of the newspaper headline.

It was a story that was deemed simply too good to miss, maybe because someone in the police too readily believed the negative propaganda these same newspapers spout each day about immigrants to the UK. It looks as if the police were caught in a self-fuelling circle of deceit, but what was initially paraded as a triumph in the newspapers has been a revealed as a farce.

The police carry on defending themselves by saying it would be wrong to conclude that no child trafficking was involved just because no-one was charged with the offence. That's not the kind of argument that would stand up in court, although you do have to have some sympathy with the police because there is no single law against child trafficking, which makes it difficult to prosecute without relying on a whole series of immigration and sex abuse laws being invoked.

Meanwhile, Slough is left to pick up the pieces. The Roma have been a very visible presence in the town for years and the place has a reputation for a more liberal attitude towards immigrants than the Daily Hate would find acceptable. But overcrowding and lack of legal income means the Roma are not great neighbours.

Around the established Roma community house prices are said to have tumbled. But then how do you fit 15 people into a three-bedroom house and not cause a nuisance? And aren't there laws on multiple occupancy that ought to be enforced before police start looking for child traffickers?

The local shopkeepers complain about Roma children shoplifting all the time and of women begging in the streets with their children in tow. People walking down Oxford Street complain of that too and it has to be said that training your children to beg in the street is almost as reprehensible as training them to thieve.

But thanks to our dysfunctional relationship with the European Union the Roma, like all Romanians, are only half welcome here anyway. As members of an ascension state the Romanians are free to enter Britain but they cannot take up any unskilled work, as most other eastern Europeans can.

Fearing another "Polish invasion" when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, Britain limited the rights of these citizens in this country.

There are worries in parts of England about overstretched public services being further strained by immigration but allowing Romanians to work legally in the UK would turn them into service-supporting taxpayers and make a latter-day Dickensian existence less likely.