Sunday 18 February 2018

House of horrors sex slave 'utterly failed by system'

The bedroom where the victim was kept in the Armagh ‘House of Horrors’ Picture: PA
The bedroom where the victim was kept in the Armagh ‘House of Horrors’ Picture: PA

Claire O'Boyle

Questions must be answered over how a mentally disabled woman was kept as a sex slave for almost a decade without the knowledge of the authorities, politicians have insisted.

In one of the most disturbing cases of depravity ever to come to light in Northern Ireland, a husband and wife were jailed this week for keeping holding the woman prisoner in a filthy Craigavon house where she was subjected to horrific sexual abuse.

For eight years, their victim, who was reported missing by her husband in 2004, was hidden from sight in a small bedroom where she was raped, starved and even filmed as the couple put her through unimaginable cruelty and degradation.

Police in Suffolk dropped their investigation into her disappearance just a day after it was reported when they received a phone call from someone who claimed to be the woman in question, saying she was not missing but merely on holiday with a friend.

Father-of-eight Keith Baker was jailed for 15 years on Tuesday, while his wife Caroline was sentenced to three years at Craigavon Crown Court for her part in the crimes. She will spend just 18 months of that behind bars.

Local MP David Simpson said statutory bodies must release information publicly about the processes that were followed, and explain how and when things went wrong.

"There is a responsibility on all the agencies in cases like this," said Mr Simpson.

"No-one can pass the buck to a single individual, but there is a collective responsibility on all the agencies to make sure any information given is acted upon. Crucially, this needs to be seen to be done in a coordinated way.

"Now the court case is over, the judge has made his decision and passed out the sentences, there is nothing pending legally that could prevent this information being released. "If some aspects need to be held back because of child protection issues or for other reasons then guidelines have to be followed, but the agencies need to look at and explain what went on.

"It is shocking that something like this can have happened in the vicinity of normal people going to and fro from their homes without anything being noticed and highlights the problem we have here with human trafficking. But this case is particularly horrendous considering the vulnerability of the victim."

The Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who previously worked for sexual abuse counselling service Nexus, said the shocking nature of the crime should be a wake-up call.

"It's worth pointing out that this is not a one off case. It is horrific, abhorrent and so brutal it's unimaginable," she said.

"Sexual abuse and trafficking is happening all over so we really need to wake up and understand the depth of this problem in our society.

"This was a married woman from England, she was abducted and the police did not deal with that properly.

"She was then trafficked into Northern Ireland and locked up in a room for eight years in a housing estate.

"This goes way beyond neighbours not knowing. Every statutory body process has failed this victim."

Last night the PSNI confirmed the force had had no contact with the Baker family prior to 2012.

Answering questions about its response to a missing persons report made about the victim in March 2004, Suffolk Police said: "We can confirm she was reported as missing by her husband on March 15, 2004.

"On March 16, 2004, police took a call from a woman who said her husband had reported her as missing.

"She told officers she was not missing but was on holiday with a friend.

"Police updated her husband to this effect and, as a result, enquiries were concluded."

Irish Independent

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