MP says discovery may be tip of ‘rather large iceberg’
The three women thought to have been held captive in a south London house for decades were “brainwashed” before being slowly turned into slaves, detectives believe.
Privately, investigators say it is believed that everybody in the Lambeth property was involved in what is described as akin to a quasi-religious cult.
Police and experts are slowly piecing together the lives of the Irish woman (57), a Malaysian (69) and a Briton (30), but “this may take weeks, or many months”, said Commander Steve Rodhouse.
The Irish woman and the Malaysian were held “for more than 30 years, but less than 40”, said Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity which took the first call for help from the Irish woman.
The Metropolitan Police are reluctant to involve the victims’ families, if they have any, at this point, because they are extremely vulnerable.
Police and the Freedom Charity are refusing to say if the 30-year-old woman is related to them or to either of the two older women – though there are strong suspicions that she is the daughter of one of them.
The identity of the Irish woman has not been given to the Department of Foreign Affairs by the Metropolitan Police.
Last night, the Irish Embassy said: “We have been assured that the women are receiving appropriate care and support at this time, and this is the priority consideration.
“Regarding personal details, we have not yet been given a name. Although the police have advised the Embassy that they are satisfied that one of the women is from Ireland, it has not been confirmed to us that she is an Irish citizen.”
The three women were beaten and forced to live a life of “invisible handcuffs” and subjected to emotional control, even if they were occasionally able to leave the house, said Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland.
Barred from leaving UK
A couple were arrested for questioning in relation to charges of forced labour, servitude, false imprisonment and assault, were released early on Friday. They were bailed to appear again in late January. The suspects, who are Asian, are barred from leaving the UK.
The pair were arrested in the 1970s, but police would not say if they were charged or convicted. However, Commander Rodhouse said neither of them has a reputation for violence “outside of the house”.
The discovery is the “tip of a rather large iceberg”, according to an MP in charge of reviewing evidence of slavery in Britain.
Frank Field, chair of the Modern Slavery Bill evidence review, said criminal gangs were making “huge sums of money” from people being imported into the UK to work “almost for nothing”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Field said many victims who escape have no way of communicating because they speak little or no English and often come from countries where they are “deeply suspicious” of the police.
“We’ve had this example of domestic slavery but people are being imported to work, almost for nothing, in industry,” he said. “We’ve got begging gangs being developed, with people being imported. And of course we’ve got the whole question of how children are being imported to work. It’s a whole range of issues we’ve got to wake up to.”
Mr Field said it appeared the issue of slavery was getting worse as authorities were becoming more successful with prosecutions. “If you think where other countries have started to be serious about this, the numbers have risen sharply,” he said. “I would have thought it’s safe to act on the assumption that the examples we’ve had in the last few months are the tip of a rather large iceberg.”