Sunday 24 September 2017

'You saved our lives' - three woman thanked charity who helped rescue them

Laurence Dodds

Three women alleged to have been held as slaves for 30 years have thanked the founder of the charity which helped rescue them for "saving their lives".

Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity, told ITV's Daybreak programme she met the three women yesterday.

She said: "They're quite traumatised ... but they're very relieved to be out.

"When I met them, it was a very humbling experience. They all threw their arms around me, and apart from crying enormously, they thanked the charity for the work Freedom had done in saving their lives."

The women were rescued from a house in Lambeth in south London last month after one of them saw Ms Prem on TV and contacted her charity for help.

Ms Prem told Daybreak hosts Lorraine Kelly and Aled Jones that it would be "a very long journey" to rehabilitate the women, one of whom is believed to have been imprisoned for her entire life.

She said: "If you have spent your entire life in captivity and know nothing different, then even the smallest freedoms, the smallest things, you have no knowledge of.

"It's going to be a difficult process. Bear in mind these ladies have left with absolutely nothing at all. The charity is going to have to try and help and support them through this difficulty journey."

Scotland Yard confirmed a couple in their 60s were arrested at the house and bailed last night as part of an investigation into slavery and domestic servitude.

The victims - a 30-year-old British woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman - are being looked after in a safe location.

The Irish woman contacted Freedom on October 18 to say she had been held against her will for more than 30 years, and that two others were held with her.

She and the British woman met charity workers and police on October 25 before returning to the address and rescuing the Malaysian woman.

Ms Prem said: "The ladies had seen me on various news channels throughout a period of the summer when we were doing a campaign about forced marriages and young girls going missing.

"Underneath my name, the title was 'Freedom Charity', and I think when I spoke to them one of the things that really made them want to ring up and ask for help at that moment was they felt they needed their freedom and we were the obvious people to call.

"They said they felt they could trust me because they'd seen me on the TV."

After a "traumatic and very difficult" first call to Freedom staff, Ms Prem arranged a single point of contact for the women and began "secret negotiations" to bring them out.

She said: "We did it in a very slow way to gain their trust, because after 30 years of people being held in very difficult circumstances, one of the things we didn't want to do was to add any more trauma."

Police delayed the arrest so they could work sensitively with the victims to establish the facts of the case.

Investigating officers said they had "never seen anything of this magnitude before" but there was no evidence to suggest anything of a sexual nature.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland 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."

Aisha Gill, a criminologist at the University of Roehampton, told the programme: "This is the time for the UK Government, and David Cameron in particular, to actually sign the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention to prevent violence against women and girls, who are the most likely to be victims of this kind of abuse."

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