Police have rescued three “highly traumatised” women from a house in south London where they were allegedly held as slaves for more than 30 years. One of the women is thought to have been captive all her life.
Scotland Yard said officers arrested two people in their 60s at their home in Lambeth this morning as part of an ongoing investigation into slavery and domestic servitude.
A 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old British woman were all “rescued” by officers, a statement read, after one of them sent a cry for help to a charity.
Police said they were contacted in October by the Freedom charity, which works to protect the human rights of those at risk of modern slavery.
“They had received a call from a woman stating she had been held against her will in a house in London for more than 30 years,” police said.
After further inquiries, officers were able to locate the house and rescued the women “with the help of sensitive negotiations conducted by the charity.
“All three women, who were highly traumatised, were taken to a place of safety where they remain.”
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom, said the alleged victims – who are believed to have suffered physical and mental harm – were able to walk out of the property after extensive calls with the charity.
She told Sky News: “We started in-depth to talks to them when they could, it had to be pre-arranged. They gave us set times when they were able to speak to us.
“It was planned that they would be able to walk out of the property. The police were on standby.
“They were able to leave the property, but it was done in such a way… it was a very, very excellent way it happened.”
Ms Prem said the two people arrested were considered the “heads of the family”, and that the women were “absolutely terrified” of them.
She added: “They felt they were in massive danger. I don’t believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street.
“They were very restricted on everything they could do.
“We are absolutely thrilled this has happened.”
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met’s human trafficking unit, said: “ We’ve established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years. They did have some controlled freedom.
”The human trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We’ve seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years but we’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before.”
Mr Hyland said there was a delay in arresting the suspects, who are both non-British, after the women were freed on October 25 as police tried to establish the facts of the case.
“The women were released as soon as possible,” he said.
“There was a delay in the arrest. This was down to the fact that we had to work very carefully with these people who were highly traumatised and it was very difficult to establish the facts.
Asked about what help the women will be given, the charity founder said: “They are going to be afforded all the help and support that can be.
“I’m so grateful they saw the news. Now they will try to re-build their lives.”
Earlier this year the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) – a joint operation by the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – revealed it helped in 1,485 cases of possible forced marriage in 2012, involving 60 countries across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and North America.
The statistics for last year show that of the 744 cases where the age was known, more than 600 involved people under the age of 26.