Three women allegedly held as slaves—one for more than 30 years—have been rescued today after they walked out of the front door of an “ordinary house on an ordinary street” in south London, where they had reportedly been forced into lives of domestic servitude.
Police who had been alerted to the women’s plight were waiting outside the house to take them to a place of safety. A police spokesman today told The Daily Beast that the three women were a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman, and a 30-year-old British woman. They are said to be “highly traumatized.”
Two suspects, a 67-year-old man and a 67-year-old woman, were taken to a south London police station where they remain in custody.
The extraordinary events unfolded today following a considerable period of “sensitive negotiation” via the U.K. organization Freedom Charity, which campaigns against forced marriage and so-called “honor violence” in which women are assaulted and sometimes killed for refusing to comply with their family’s wishes. The charity counts Prince Charles as one of its supporters.
One of the women allegedly held as slaves had apparently been able to make a phone call to the charity in October after its contact details were broadcast after a TV show about forced marriage in October. The woman told the charity she had been held against her will for more than 30 years.
Further inquiries by police revealed the location of the house and, with the help of what the police said were “sensitive negotiations conducted by the charity,” the three women were all rescued today after walking out of the house unaided.
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity, gave some insight into the extraordinary world of the women, telling Sky News, “We started in-depth to talks to 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.”
Prem said the two people arrested were considered the “heads of the family,” and that the women were “absolutely terrified” of them.
She added: “I don’t believe the neighbors knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street. They did have rooms that they could use but they were really restricted about what they could do and could never leave the front door.”
She said it was the Irish woman who made the phone calls.
The police said the women are now in “a place of safety” while their erstwhile captors are being held at a local police station.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met’s human trafficking unit, said: “We applaud the actions of Freedom Charity and are working in partnership to support these victims who appear to have been held for over 30 years. We have launched an extensive investigation to establish the facts surrounding these very serious allegations. A television documentary on forced marriages relating to the work of Freedom Charity was the catalyst that prompted one of the victims to call for help and led to their rescue.”