Three women rescued in London 'after 30 years in slavery'

21st November 2013, Comments 0 comments

Three women have been rescued from a house in London after claims they were held as slaves for at least 30 years, one of them having spent her entire life in servitude, police said Thursday.

A man and a woman, both aged 67 and described as non-British, were arrested at their home in London on Thursday "as part of an investigation into slavery and domestic servitude", Scotland Yard said.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said the victims, who are now in an unspecified location, were "deeply traumatised".

"It's clear that they've been in this situation for at least 30 years," said Hyland, who leads Scotland Yard's Human Trafficking Unit.

The victims are a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old Briton who had had "no contact with the outside world", Hyland told reporters.

Police said they did not know where the youngest woman was born, but it was not thought the victims were related.

They all had "controlled freedom", but Hyland said it was still not clear what that meant in practice.

The women's first step to liberation came when they contacted the Freedom Charity last month after it was featured in a television programme.

The charity usually deals with forced marriage and honour-based abuse but is also used to working with women who feel trapped in difficult situations.

It negotiated with the women via secret telephone calls to gain their trust over the course of a week, before it contacted the police.

The women were rescued on October 25, almost a month before the arrests were made early Thursday in Lambeth, a borough of south London.

"We have seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years but we have never seen anything of this magnitude before," Hyland said.

"They did have some controlled freedom but we are establishing the facts of how that controlled freedom operated.

"Their life was greatly controlled and for much of it they would have been kept in the premises."

Aneeta Prem, the founder of the Freedom Charity, said the women's treatment was "barbaric", adding that she believed they suffered physical but not sexual abuse.

"You're basically looking at domestic slavery, and you wouldn't expect that to be happening in the UK, in London, in 2013," she told Sky News.

'Scourge of modern slavery'

A spokesman for Britain's interior minister Theresa May said she was "shocked by this appalling case".

He said May would wait for the outcome of the police investigation, but "she's made clear her determination to tackle the scourge of modern slavery".

Prem said the two people arrested were the "heads of the family" in which the three women were kept.

"The ladies were absolutely terrified of these people," she said.

"They did have rooms that they could use but they were very restricted on everything they could do."

She said their home was just "an ordinary house in an ordinary street", adding: "I don't believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all."

The women are doing well considering their ordeal, Prem said, but added that she found it hard to believe "that human beings can treat each other that way".

"It's something that's so barbaric and so out of everyone's imagination that anybody could treat anybody in such a way that people feel that they are slaves," she said.

Britain had the lowest prevalence of modern-day slavery of 160 countries in an index published last month by the Walk Free Foundation.

The index estimated that between 4,200 and 4,600 people were held in practices such as debt bondage, forced marriage, human trafficking and forced labour.

Earlier this year, three women were freed after more than a decade being sexually abused in a house in Cleveland, in the US state of Ohio.

Their captor, Ariel Castro, was sentenced to life in prison in August but was found dead in his cell the following month.

© 2013 AFP

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