Slave for 30 years: story of rescued Irishwoman as suspects released on bail
Dramatic phone call ended worst case of modern slavery seen by police in UK
The two people who were arrested by police in London in connection with the investigation into slavery and domestic servitude have been released on bail until January.
A 57-year-old Irish woman who was among three women who were freed after claims that they were held as slaves for 30 years.
Police say the two people released on bail were both aged 67 and are not British nationals.
The Irishwoman who had been kept in domestic slavery for 30 years alerted the authorities to her plight in a dramatic phone call to a charity helpline.
The woman is one of three who are "deeply traumatised" after being kept in captivity in a London house, enduring the worst case of modern slavery ever seen by police in Britain. One of the women, the youngest at 30, is understood to have been kept in captivity for her entire life.
As it emerged the women had finally been released from decades of slavery in a nondescript suburban home, a senior officer admitted: "We have never seen anything of this magnitude before."
Two suspects, who are both aged 67 and are not British, were arrested in a dramatic operation yesterday – a month after one of the women made a desperate phone call to a charity helpline.
It is understood that the phone call was made by the 57-year-old woman originally from Ireland, who was kept in the house along with a 67-year-old Malaysian woman and a 30-year-old British woman.
She made her brave bid for freedom by calling the Freedom Charity, which had featured on a television programme about domestic slavery that the women had themselves watched.
She told charity workers that she had been held against her will in a house in south London for more than 30 years.
It is believed that at first she referred to a "friend" but police were alerted and used specially trained officers to interview the women over the telephone.
The Irish woman then escaped along with the younger British woman and met authorities at an agreed location nearby on October 25.
Detectives from the human trafficking unit said it was the worst case of modern slavery they had ever come across.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, the officer leading the investigation, said the duration of the women's alleged servitude was three times greater than anything seen before by police.
He said: "We have launched an extensive investigation to establish the facts surrounding these very serious allegations. All three women were deeply affected and traumatised. Their lives were greatly controlled and for much it, they would have been kept on the premises.
"We have had some previous cases... where we know people have been held against their will for up to 10 years. We have never seen anything of this magnitude."
Last night police searches were under way at the house in Lambeth as details began to emerge about the severe restrictions imposed on the women's liberty.
The youngest woman, who is 30, is believed to have had no normal contact with the outside world during her life.
The three 'slaves' were never allowed outside unaccompanied and spent the vast majority of their lives confined to the property, described by police as an "ordinary house in an ordinary street".
Yesterday after weeks of careful investigation police moved in and arrested two people, who were described as the "heads of the family".
The pair were yesterday being questioned at a south London police station. Det Insp Hyland added: "We've established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years."
Det Insp Hyland said they were still working to establish if the 30-year-old woman had been born in the house but he said the indications were that she had spent her entire life there.
Asked if she had ever attended school he said: "The 30-year-old had no contact with the outside world that one would see as normal."
He said he was unable to confirm any relationship between the suspects and the three women who were freed.
"Clearly, because of the nationalities of the women that have been held victims, it's very unlikely they are related in any way."
Det Insp Hyland said there was a delay in arresting the suspects, 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.
"We needed professional assistance from outside agencies. Until we had facts to justify where we are now, we delayed that arrest."
Freedom Charity, which aims to advise and support victims of forced marriages or honour-based violence, contacted police after one of the women got in touch last month.
Aneeta Prem, the founder of the charity, said the alleged victims were extremely vulnerable, but had been able to walk out of the house on their own where they were met by police.
"We started in-depth talks with 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."
She added: "I think it's a real rarity, I certainly haven't heard of anything this before. I've heard of stories abroad but not in the centre of London."
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) welcomed the rescue of the three women, and emphasised the need for all victims of slavery to be protected and supported.
Director Siobhan O'Donoghue said the reported details of the women's situation resembled many of the cases MRCI has dealt with, although the length of time they were held is beyond anything the centre has encountered. The MRCI said it has dealt with almost 200 cases of forced labour around the country, a high proportion of which were cases of domestic servitude.
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said his department will offer the Irish woman all the assistance it can.
Martin Evans and Gordon Rayner