Chinese women freed from cupboard 10 days after abduction

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The Independent Online

Two Chinese women, who were locked in a tiny cupboard for up to 10 days, have been freed with seven other hostages, in one of the biggest kidnap cases in Britain.

Two Chinese women, who were locked in a tiny cupboard for up to 10 days, have been freed with seven other hostages, in one of the biggest kidnap cases in Britain.

The women, aged in their 20s, were found their 2ft-wide by 1ft-deep prison after their cries for help were heard by police officers who were raiding a cramped two-bedroom house in east London. Two men and five women were also found being held captive.

Fourteen people were being questioned by police yesterday. The captives are believed to be the latest victims of Chinese "Snakehead" gangsters who are paid up to £10,000 per person to smuggle in illegal immigrants from their homeland. Once they enter Britain they are held hostage by the Snakeheads who demand a ransom from their relatives.

The operation to release the hostages began early on Monday when a male captive escaped and wandering the streets until he found a passer-by he could tell.

Officers from Scotland Yard's Kidnap and Specialist Investigations Unit found an exact address within 24 hours.

Armed police used stun grenades to confuse the kidnappers when they raided the house shortly after midday on Wednesday. No shots were fired and the captives were uninjured, although badly shaken.

Detective Superintendent Steve Gwilliam, who was in charge, said: "The operation is the culmination of a sophisticated and complex inquiry. Teams of officers have worked around the clock for several days to bring about the safe release of the hostages."

Det-Supt Gwilliam added: "This is believed to be one of the largest kidnaps in the UK, that is, the largest number of hostages." Scotland Yard has dealt with a spate of Snakehead kidnaps, but the number of incidents has been falling in the past year, although detectives believe this is partly because the criminals are becoming more sophisticated at evading the authorities and many are operating outside the capital. Last month, armed police used stun grenades to rescue three Chinese people being held in a flat in east London.

In June, 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found dead in a lorry at Dover.

The Chinese gangs are becoming notorious for the contemptuous way they treat victims. One man was forced to act as their slave, cooking and cleaning for his kidnappers, another had his fingers sliced to the bone for refusing to rape a fellow captive.

The Chinese kidnaps involving Triad-related gangs are particularly violent. Chinese chef Xaio Ming Cao, 25, was held for 12 days, the longest kidnap in recent years, after he was grabbed outside Hendon Underground station in 1996.

He was handcuffed to a radiator and only allowed to move to go the lavatory while a £40,000 ransom demand was made to his family in China. Cao was given a cup of boiled rice once every two days and made to crawl around the floor and bark like a dog while he was kicked.

The gang were arrested and jailed for 15 years but their hostage was left severely traumatised. Scotland Yard's hostage experts estimate that about one person a week is being kidnapped in London, however most are drug gangs and criminals seizing rivals.