London

'Slave' women rescued: Three held in 'horrific conditions'

  • 22 November 2013
  • From the section London

Three women rescued from a house after allegedly being held as slaves for 30 years were kept in "horrific conditions", a charity has said.

Freedom Charity said it had been called by a woman who said she and two others were being held in south London.

A Malaysian woman, 69, an Irish woman, 57, and a Briton, 30, were rescued on 25 October, it emerged on Thursday.

A man, 73, and woman, 67, understood to be married, were arrested in Lambeth and later bailed until January.

Det Insp Kevin Hyland, from the Metropolitan Police's human trafficking unit, said: "These women are highly traumatised, having been held in servitude for at least 30 years with no real exposure to the outside world, and, trying to find out exactly what has happened over three decades will understandably take some time."

'Ordinary street'

The women were found following phone conversations between the charity and the 57-year-old, who had secretly gained access to a phone.

She first called on 18 October and there followed a number of phone conversations over a week.

The three women eventually left the property when the occupants of the house were not around, the charity said.

They were met by police and representatives from the group, and were then moved to a safe location.

Speaking to the BBC, Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, said it was investigating how the women had remained hidden for so long.

"In a very busy capital city we often don't know our neighbours. We're looking at people who were kept against their will in an ordinary residential street in central London," she said.

Ms Prem said of the initial contact with the Irish woman: "She said she had been held against her will.

"She was able to use a phone but that was done in a very secret way. The people in the house didn't know she had it.

"It was a process of just over a week where there was lots of phone calls and they gained the trust of the charity, and by doing that they felt confident to reveal enough information.

"Obviously the police were involved, and they managed to walk out of the house when nobody was around.

"We were waiting for them with the police and we managed to get them to a place of safety.

"They have absolutely nothing now and as a charity we're trying to support them.

"It was a very emotional time. When we got the message they were outside the front door, the whole call centre erupted in cheers and there were tears, and everyone was incredibly emotional to know we had helped to rescue three ladies who had been held in such horrific conditions."

'Some freedom'

The 30-year-old had spent her whole life in captivity, police believe, and officers are trying to establish whether she was born in the house.

It is not yet known if the women are related.

Officers said the arrested couple were not British nationals and it was "very unlikely" that the alleged victims were related to them because of their nationalities.

Det Insp Hyland said they had "never seen anything of this magnitude before".

He added that the women had had controlled lives and spent most of their time indoors, but they had some freedom.

Police said the facts were being established slowly with specialist workers assisting the women.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Slavery is one of those issues which people felt had been consigned to the history books.

"The sad reality is that it is still there. We have seen increases year on year in the number of cases reported, and I expect that will continue to increase."

Mr Brokenshire is taking a Slavery Bill through Parliament, which will introduce a maximum life sentence for slave-owners and create a new commissioner to tackle the problem.

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