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 arrested a man and a woman, both 67, at their south London home and described it as the worst case of servitude to have emerged in the British capital.
The two people arrested had been released on bail until a date in January pending further enquiries, the police said in a statement late on Thursday. No additional details were provided.
Police said they did not believe the women — a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old from Ireland and a 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 on Oct. 18 after watching a BBC documentary featuring an anti-slavery campaigner that they came to light.
After building trust with workers at Freedom Charity, the two younger women met with charity staff and police on Oct. 25 and led them to the house where they rescued the third woman and all three were taken to safety.
The case was kept secret until Thursday’s arrests of two people described as non-British nationals on suspicion of being involved in forced labor and domestic servitude. The man and woman remain in custody.
“These women are highly traumatized, having been held in servitude for at least 30 years with no real exposure to the outside world, and trying to find out exactly what has happened over three decades will understandably take some time,” Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said in a statement.
“Our unit deals with many cases every year, but has never unearthed such a staggering example of people held against their will for their whole lifetime,” he said.
He added this was not a common case in Britain, but urged anyone else in similar circumstances to come forward.
The fate of the women evoked memories of lengthy abductions in the US and Austria.
Hyland said the trail to the women began on Oct. 21 when the Freedom Charity reported a call to police from a woman who said she had been held against her will in the house for more than 30 years after the organization featured in the documentary.
“The relationship between the women is part of an ongoing investigation and we are not willing to speculate. However, we believe that the 30-year-old woman had been in servitude all her life,” he said.
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity that works on issues including forced marriage, said it took a lot of courage for the women to come forward because they were terrified.
“They had been trying for a number of years to work out a way to leave,” Prem said, 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.
She added that neighbors had not reported noticing anything untoward happening at the property that was “an ordinary house in an ordinary street.”