Lambeth 'slaves': The women freed after 30 years in London house

Three ‘deeply traumatised’ victims rescued in Lambeth include one who has been a captive all her life

It was a call to the Freedom Charity that marked the beginning of the end. The emotional woman said that 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 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.

One of the women, who were all described as being “deeply traumatised”, is believed to have been kept in the same house in the borough of Lambeth for her entire life and deprived of any “normal” contact with the outside world since she was a baby.

The Independent understands 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 staged a dawn raid on the women’s home – described by charity workers as “an ordinary house on an ordinary street” – and arrested a man and a woman, both aged 67, on suspicion of slavery and forced domestic servitude. Today they were released on bail until a date in January, Scotland Yard said. Their alleged captives – a 30-year-old Briton, a 69-year-old Malaysian and a 57-year-old Irish woman – were released by police and staff from the London-based Freedom Charity several weeks ago.

Such is the women’s fragile state that officers have had to spend days piecing together details of their alleged ordeal before moving in to make arrests. Scotland Yard said the suspects were “not British nationals” but gave no more details.

The call that ended their apparent captivity came after one of the two older women had watched a documentary about forced marriage which focused on the Freedom Charity; she used a freephone number at the end of the programme to contact astonished welfare workers.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, who is leading the investigation, said the women’s alleged servitude was three times longer than anything seen before by police.

He said: “We have launched an extensive investigation [into] these very serious allegations. All three women were deeply affected and traumatised. Their lives were greatly controlled, and for much of [the time] 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.”

The Yard said many details of the women’s lives over the past three decades, including how they came to be held in the house in the first place, remained unclear because of the trauma they had suffered.

Officers are debriefing the women at accommodation provided by the charity, slowly building up a picture of a life where their every move is claimed to have been scrutinised and any contact with the outside world tightly restricted. The house where they were allegedly held was being searched.

The case was immediately compared to that of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who kept his daughter captive for 24 years and fathered seven children with her. However, these three women are not related and officers said they had no information that the youngest was related to the two people under arrest. Police said they were not investigating sexual abuse allegations.

The Independent understands that although the women were not kept permanently in the house, 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.

Aneeta Prem, a magistrate and founder of Freedom Charity, which helps victims of forced marriage and “honour” violence, said that after the initial call, welfare workers and police were able to identify the women’s home and set up clandestine meetings.

It is believed the women suffered physical as well as mental harm. Ms Prem told Sky News: “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.”

The charity said the women had described their claimed captors as “heads of the family” and were living in a state of terror. Ms Prem said: “They felt they were in massive danger. I don’t believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street.”

Police said they did not yet know if the 30-year-old had been born in the house but it was clear it had been her home ever since.

The Independent understands that 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 thought that the woman did not give names or an address. The caller, who was in an emotional state, said that the “friend” believed she had suffered a stroke and knew she was not well, but she was not allowed medical help. The caller said the “friend” had had no education at the address.

In a report, the Centre for Social Justice said that in 2012 about 800 adults were known to have been enslaved in the UK, but it said this figure was a “pale reflection” of the true scale of the problem.

Adults and children were exploited through the sex industry, domestic servitude and enforced criminal activity. The charity said its research showed that many cases were never recognised or reported and that it had no consistent grip on the numbers. “Agencies charged with such responsibility are groping in the dark for a sense of scale,” it said.

“It was planned that they would be able to walk out of the property. The police were on standby.

“They were able to leave the property, but it was done in such a way... it was a very, very excellent way it happened.”

Ms Prem said the two people arrested were considered the “heads of the family”, and that the women were “absolutely terrified” of them.

She added: “They felt they were in massive danger. I don't believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street.

“They were very restricted on everything they could do.

“We are absolutely thrilled this has happened.”

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met's human trafficking unit, said: “ We've established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years. They did have some controlled freedom.

”The human trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We've seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years but we've never seen anything of this magnitude before."

Mr Hyland said there was a delay in arresting the suspects, who are both non-British, 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.

Asked about what help the women will be given, the charity founder said: “They are going to be afforded all the help and support that can be.

“I'm so grateful they saw the news. Now they will try to re-build their lives.”

Suggested Topics
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape