LONDON (Reuters) - Three women enslaved for 30 years have been rescued from a house in London including one who has spent her entire life in domestic servitude, police said on Thursday.
Officers, who arrested a man and a woman, both 67, at their south London home, described it as the worst case of servitude to have emerged in the British capital.
Police said they did not believe the women - a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old from Ireland and the 30-year-old Briton - were related and there was no evidence of sexual abuse. It was not clear where the youngest of the three was born.
The women appeared to have had limited freedom over the years but it was not until one victim summoned the courage to call a charity after watching a documentary on forced marriage that their plight came to light.
They were rescued several weeks ago but the case kept secret until Thursday’s arrests.
“All three women, who were highly traumatised, were taken to a place of safety where they remain,” Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland told reporters.
“The Human Trafficking Unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We have seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years, but we have never seen anything of this magnitude before.”
Few other details were immediately available, but the fate of the women evoked memories of lengthy abductions in the United States and Austria.
Hyland said the trail to the women began last month when the Freedom Charity reported a call from a woman who said she had been held against her will in the house after the organisation featured in the documentary.
Further inquiries led to a nondescript house in south London and, with the help of negotiations conducted by the charity, the rescue of the three women.
It took several weeks to gain the women’s trust before the rescue could go ahead, said Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity that works on issues including forced marriage.
“They had been trying for a number of years to work out a way to leave,” Prem told Reuters, declining to give details on the location of the house. “People will be shocked this can happen in the UK and in a capital city like London.”
She added that neighbours had not reported noticing anything untoward happening at the property.
The women were doing “remarkably well” physically and mentally under the circumstances, Prem said. “This will be a very long haul for them to try to return to a normal life.”
In the United States, former bus driver Ariel Castro was convicted in August of the abduction, torture and decade-long confinement of three women. He was found hanged in his cell at an Ohio prison in September.
That followed two infamous cases in Austria.
Natascha Kampusch was found in 2006 after being kidnapped at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil and held captive for eight years. In 2009, Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life after keeping his daughter Elisabeth captive in a cellar for 24 years and fathering seven children with her.
Last month, the first Global Slavery Index revealed there were nearly 30 million people living as slaves in 162 countries and that Britain was not immune to the problem.
Although ranked 160th on the list, there were still estimated to be more than 4,000 slaves in Britain, an estimate that the index judged to be conservative.
Editing by Stephen Addison and Alison Williams