Saturday 23 September 2017

A lifetime of slavery in the heart of bustling London

It was 'just an ordinary house in an ordinary street'. But the three women just released from it have been held there as slaves for 30 years

Cahal Milmo and Paul Peachey

THE voice at the end of the line described a life that was the very opposite of freedom and liberty. The emotional woman said her "friend" was only ever allowed out of the home to hang washing out and occasionally walk to a shop under the tight control of one of their alleged captors.

The call to the Freedom Charity last month began a painstaking operation to extricate three "absolutely terrified" women from a house in the heart of London where they were allegedly held for at least 30 years, in what police said could be Britain's most enduring case of domestic slavery.

It came after the Irish woman had watched a documentary about forced marriage, which focused on the Freedom Charity.

The woman used a freephone number at the end of the programme to contact astonished welfare workers and finally begin taking steps towards freedom.

The initial caller spoke of a "friend" and did not immediately identify herself or the other two women as victims of domestic slavery.

It is understood that the woman did not give names or an address, triggering the delicate process of trying to identify the women – and then encourage them to leave the house where they had remained for decades.

It was described by police as "just an ordinary house in an ordinary street". But the three women they have just released from it have been held there as slaves for 30 years – and one has been a captive all her life.

It is believed the youngest was held at the same house in the borough of Lambeth and deprived of any "normal" contact with the outside world since she was a baby.

It is also understood that another of the victims was deprived of medical treatment despite telling her alleged captors – who were seen as "heads of the family" – that she believed she had suffered a stroke.

Officers from Scotland Yard's human trafficking unit yesterday staged a dawn raid on the women's home and arrested a man and a woman, both aged 67, on suspicion of slavery and forced domestic servitude.

Their alleged captives – an Irishwoman (57), a Malaysian (69) and a Briton (30) – were released by police and staff from the London-based Freedom Charity several weeks ago.

Such was the women's fragile state that officers have had to spend days painstakingly piecing together details of their ordeal before moving in to make arrests.

Details of the women's lives over the past three decades and their enslavement in England's capital remained unclear because of the trauma they had suffered.

It is unknown just how they had come to be held in the house in the first place.

Specially trained officers are debriefing the women at accommodation provided by the charity, slowly building up a picture of their lives.

It is claimed their every move was scrutinised and contact with the outside world subjected to extreme control and supervision.

It is understood their access to the outside world consisted of being allowed to hang out laundry and occasional shopping trips while accompanied by one of their alleged captors.

The case was immediately compared with that of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who kept his daughter captive for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.

But there are clear differences in the cases, and what little is known about the women raises further questions about the circumstances of their incarceration.

None of the three are related to each other and officers said that they had no information "at this moment" that the youngest woman was related to the two people under arrest.

Police also underlined that they were not investigating any allegations of sexual abuse.

Although they were eventually able to walk out of the property, it is believed the women had suffered physical as well as mental harm.

A particular focus of the police investigation will be the life led by the 30-year-old woman.

Police said they did not yet know if she had been born in the Lambeth house but it was clear it had been her home ever since. They declined to comment on whether she had ever attended school.

Police said they applauded the actions of the charity, saying the television documentary had clearly sparked a response in one of the women to reach out for help. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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