House of horrors: Agencies reply to slave scandal questions with wall of silence
Pressure is mounting on the authorities to spell out exactly what they knew about the case of a mentally disabled woman who was kept as a sex slave.
Earlier this week, husband and wife Keith and Caroline Baker were jailed for holding the woman prisoner in a filthy Craigavon house, where she was subjected to horrific abuse. For eight years, their victim, who was reported missing by her husband in 2004, was hidden from sight in a small bedroom, where she was raped and starved as the couple put her through unimaginable cruelty.
Yet a series of questions yesterday from this newspaper to key state agencies were met with a wall of silence.
Amid demands for answers, it also emerged that police in Suffolk dropped their investigation into her disappearance just a day after it was reported. It happened after they received a phone call from someone who claimed to be the woman in question, saying she was not missing, but on holiday.
At Craigavon Crown Court on Tuesday, father-of-eight Baker was jailed for 15 years, while his wife was sentenced to three years for her part in the crimes. She will spend just 18 months of that behind bars.
Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph posed questions to the Southern Health Trust over the extent to which social services were aware of the Bakers. But the trust refused to answer, citing client confidentiality. The Education Authority also declined to comment when asked about its involvement in the case.
The Housing Executive was also unable to fully answer queries linked to the Bakers' home in Drumellan Mews in Craigavon, which was sold to them in 2006. A spokesperson said documents had been destroyed subsequently to its sales.
David Simpson, the MP for the area, said statutory bodies must release information about the processes that were followed, and explain how and when things went wrong.
"No one can pass the buck to a single individual, but there is a collective responsibility on all the agencies to make sure any information given is acted upon," he said. "Crucially, this needs to be seen to be done in a co-ordinated way.
"Now the court case is over, the judge has made his decision and passed out the sentences, there is nothing pending legally that could prevent this information being released."
Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who previously worked for sexual abuse counselling service Nexus, added: "It's worth pointing out that this is not a one-off case. It is horrific, abhorrent and so brutal it's unimaginable.
"This was a married woman from England. She was abducted and the police did not deal with that properly.
"She was then trafficked into Northern Ireland and locked up in a room for eight years in a housing estate. This goes way beyond neighbours not knowing. Every statutory body process has failed this victim."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said it was "unnerving to think this can happen in this day and age."
"The fact now remains that this has been ongoing from 2004, when the woman was taken from her home in England and reported missing by her husband, but was never traced", he added.
"Questions still remain regarding police enquiries into missing persons' reports and co-operation between police forces.
"The fact this was allowed to go on unnoticed within a community and a house full of young children is beyond me."
Last night, the PSNI confirmed that the force had had no contact with the Baker family prior to 2012. In response to questions, Suffolk Police confirmed that the victim had been reported missing by her husband on March 15, 2004.
"On March 16, 2004 police took a call from a woman who said her husband had reported her as missing," it said.
"She told officers she was not missing ,but was on holiday with a friend.
"Police updated her husband to this effect and, as a result, enquiries were concluded."
The force added the woman used the mobile phone linked to the missing woman "and there was no indication at the time to suggest that she was anyone but the named individual".