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

Aneeta Prem, Freedom Charity: "We've ensured they're in a place of safety"

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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.

Analysis

Criminal psychologist, Dr David Holmes

At the moment there are two things going on, one is trying to normalise and help the ladies involved, but at the same time the prosecution case has to advance.

They will leave the women to some degree to normalise and get used to the idea they're not actually captives and then they will apply bits of therapy as and where needed, but slowly, progressively.

To actually be held psychologically, coerced into a situation where they not only fear their captors but also fear their being released: they almost fear not being believed, so, they're in a situation in plain sight where they're being held with everyone in London passing by, looking at them and treating the whole household as normal.

It's difficult for them to unpick the layers as to who is actually their friend and their captor.

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.

Det Insp Kevin Hyland: "We have never seen anything of this magnitude"

"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.

Freedom Charity

  • Launched in December 2010 to help children suffering from forced marriage or "honour" violence
  • Founded by London magistrate Aneeta Prem who wrote a children's book about forced marriage
  • Designed an app with the Metropolitan Police to help young people at risk of forced marriage
  • Also works with the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Has called on the government to keep records of children who do not return to school after summer holidays in order to monitor forced marriages

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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