'Slave' women rescued: Suspects were arrested in 1970s
- 22 November 2013
- From the section London
Detectives investigating the case of three women allegedly held as slaves for 30 years in south London have uncovered a "complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control".
The women, aged 69, 57 and 30, were rescued in Lambeth last month.
Commander Steve Rodhouse told a press briefing that the three women told police they had been beaten.
It has also emerged the couple suspected of keeping them as slaves were arrested in the 1970s.
Police would not reveal the reason why the married couple were arrested. The man is aged 73 while the woman is 63 years old.
News of the women's plight did not emerge until Thursday, when police revealed the women, a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old Irish national and a 30-year-old Briton, had managed to leave a house in Lambeth on 25 October.
They are not believed to be victims of trafficking.
Mr Rodhouse described the three women as having been restrained by "invisible handcuffs" and confirmed they have made a clear allegation of slavery against the two suspects, who have also been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.
He said: "It is not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address and not allowed to leave.
"What we have uncovered so far is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years, brainwashing would be the most simplest term, yet that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure.
"We are unpicking a story that spans at least 30 years of these women's lives, and all of this requires police activity to turn that into evidence."
He added the women had given a "disturbing picture" of their experience, although the household may have appeared as a "normal family" to others.
It is also being investigated as to whether the women had previous contact with public services.
The case has been described as "unique" by the force and its entire 37-person specialist team is working on it.
Mr Rodhouse said one of the reasons the police had not revealed more information about the couple's arrest in the 1970s was because it must "take great care not to provide information that could lead to the identification of the subjects".
He said the two suspects had been bailed as the investigation would be a long one and could take up to many months, but said they had not returned to the Lambeth property.
The house has been subjected to a 12-hour search, with 55 bags of about 2,500 exhibits seized.
The rescue was staged after the 57-year-old woman secretly gained access to a phone and contacted Freedom Charity.
She first called on 18 October and there followed a number of conversations over a week, before the women left the property when the occupants of the house were not around.
They were met by police and representatives of the charity and moved to a safe location.
It is not yet known if the women are related but police believe the 30-year-old has spent her whole life in captivity. Officers are trying to establish whether she was born in the property.
Leader of Lambeth Council Lib Peck said people were "horrified and shocked".
Dame Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said: "It is shocking, and for one of the women this is a life foregone until she's in her early adulthood.
"It happened in my constituency and I think that until we begin to have more information from the community, it will be very hard to draw a precise conclusion as to how bizarre the behaviour of this household was.
"Once we've got those established as facts then we can draw conclusions about why this was allowed to happen, how it happened, did these people slip through the net, were there moments when the bizarre and brutal nature of this household could have been revealed?
"I think we have to accept that we have to be patient."
The Ministry of Justice said the women would be provided with secure accommodation for the first 45 days following their release.
The Salvation Army would be involved in helping the women with the next stages of their recovery period and re-integration into society.
Jakki Moxham, chief executive, of Housing for Women, a charity which works with victims of domestic slavery and trafficking, said the "horrific" case showed "slavery is not confined to the history books".
"Women who have been victims of slavery and trafficking are in an extremely vulnerable position but fail to get long term support and safe and secure accommodation after the government 45-day recovery period.
"We urge the government to address this lack of support in the Modern Day Slavery Bill so these women can try to rebuild their lives."
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said: "If it's as bad as it would appear to be, it's deplorable that something like this can happen in the 21st Century let alone in London, the greatest city on earth."