Friday 23 February 2018

Kidnapped Irish woman (57) has had no contact with her family in 30 years

A welcome sign is seen in the London Borough of Lambeth, in south London
A welcome sign is seen in the London Borough of Lambeth, in south London
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, speaks to Associated Press in central London
A police car passes a Lambeth sign on a council building in south London. Three women enslaved for 30 years have been rescued from a house in London including one who has spent her entire life in domestic servitude, police said on Thursday

THE Irish woman who walked free from a suburban house in London where she was held in forced captivity for 30 years has had no contact with either her family or the Irish authorities.

The 57 year old woman was one of three women who were  rescued from three decades of “emotional abuse” on October 25. 

Their story came to light when the couple suspected of imprisoning them were arrested at their home in Lambeth in South London on Thursday in connection with keeping the women captive.

British police said yesterday that they are satisfied that they have established the Irish woman’s identity. Asked had they contacted her family, they said they are still “considering” contacting “anybody outside” of their group “when the time is right” and “after we have taken professional advice.”

It has also emerged that while the British police have been in contact with the Irish embassy in London, it is not clear whether the Irish woman’s identity has been disclosed to diplomats there.  Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, of Scotland Yard’s human trafficking unit, said: “That is something we are discussing and it is of a confidential nature, so that’s ongoing."

Gardai have received no information about the Irish citizen, whose identity remains a mystery this weekend. There was speculation this weekend the woman may be from Northern Ireland and that she may have travelled to London as a student.

The Irish woman, a 69 Malaysian woman and a 30-year-old British woman were bound by “invisible handcuffs” to the house in South Lambeth and were emotionally abused for more than three decades, British police said yesterday.

At a press conference at Metropolitan Police headquarters yesterday, new details emerged about the couple who are suspected of keeping the women enslaved for so long. The couple, who are in their sixties, were arrested more than 40 years ago.   Police refused to say what they were arrested for.

Police also declined to reveal the nationalities of the two suspects or whether they were married. They said they lived in a unremarkable house and may have seemed like a “normal” family to outsiders.

The couple were arrested at 7.30am on Thursday morning following a long and sensitive police investigation. Police searched the house for 12 hours and took away 65 bags of evidence amounting to 2,500 exhibits. The couple were questioned not only about false imprisonment and assault of the three women but also about immigration offences, according to police.

The couple were later released on police bail but they were told not to return to their Lambeth home where the alleged abuse took place.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said the women had been subjected to long term psychological and emotional abuse but were not, at this stage, believed to be victims of sex trafficking or human trafficking. He also said that police were not looking for any other victims.

The extraordinary story of how the woman walked to freedom after being deprived of their liberty for more than 30 years in the sprawling borough of Lambeth has captivated international audiences.

Yesterday Aneeta Prem, who runs the Freedom Charity that helps orchestrate the women’s release, said the situation they found in Lambeth was “unprecedented”.

The Irish woman called the help line on October 18, after seeing a television documentary that highlighted the charity’s work. 

“The Irish lady was incredibly distressed and that was the first time she made contact with anybody to ask for help,” said Ms Prem.  

She was “coherent” but very distressed, and told the helpline she was Irish and that she had been held captive for more than 30 years.

She said the Irish woman continued to call the charity at pre-arranged times, as they tried to gain her trust.  

“I think it was after the third phone call that a lot more detail was being divulged and we could start really talking about how and when we were to get them out of the house,” she said.   “We were very aware that she was very afraid of being caught on the telephone, that someone would find out. “

The rescue was carefully planned. “I think after the initial call there were second thoughts about they were doing the right thing,” said Ms Prem. But she took things at “the Irish woman’s pace, being empathetic and believing her, that was key.”

The charity had also contacted the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit.

A week later, on October 25, the three women walked out of the suburban prison in a “highly charged” and “emotional” liberation.

Police officers and Aneeta Preem , and others from Freedom Charity, were waiting for them.

The Irish women and the younger British woman, the older Malaysian woman emerged an hour or so later for reasons that were not divulged.

“They looked like ordinary Londoners actually. You wouldn’t have been able to recognise that they were being held,” said Ms Prem.

“The women threw their arms around me individually. At that moment we all started crying and they all said individually to us ‘thank you for saving our lives’.

The three women are now living in a secure unit together. Specialist officers are trying to piece their stories together.  They are visited by their friends from the Freedom Charity and Ms Prem says she shows them pictures of her dog.

She said she hopes they can rebuild their lives.  According to Ms Prem, the Irish woman and the Malaysian woman have talked a “great deal” about what went on in the house and also about their past lives before they ended up living in enforced servitude.  However Ms Prem confirmed that the young British woman spent every one of her 30 years in there and knows nothing else.

Maeve Sheehan

Online Editors

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