An Armagh woman was among the three slaves rescued from 30 years of hell at a London house, sources revealed last night.
The 57-year-old, who was part of a ‘political collective’, is believed to have met her alleged captors in the early 1980s.
It is thought that, after a period studying in Dublin, she met a man in London and then moved in to live with him, his partner and another woman where she was held captive for the next 30 years. Police believe cult-like tactics were used to brainwash her and the other woman.
A third woman, 30, rescued from the house with her may have been born in captivity. Police have refused to comment on speculation she is the Armagh woman’s daughter.
Until now mystery has surrounded the background of the “Irish woman” whose phone call for help sparked off the police operation which saw them removed from the home.
The 30-year-old British woman, the 57-year-old Co Armagh woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman were rescued from the house in Lambeth, south London, last month after the Northern Irish woman called a support charity asking for help.
Yesterday the Metropolitan Police revealed new details that shed more light on what is proving to be a truly extraordinary story of modern slavery that started with a mysterious couple of Tanzanian and Indian origin who moved to the UK in the 1960s.
According to the police, the couple founded a “collective” attracting followers that included the young ideological Northern Irish woman and a Malaysian woman who was more than a decade older than her.
“We believe that two of the victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology, and that they lived together at an address that you could effectively call a collective.
“Somehow that collective came to an end and the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects,” said the police commander, Steve Rodhouse.
A baby was born into the collective 30 years ago whom police believe “has lived with the suspects and the other victims all her life”.
“The people involved, the nature of that collective and how it operated is all subject to our investigation and we are slowly and painstakingly piecing together more information,” he said.
“How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives.”
Scotland Yard revealed yesterday that part of the agreement when the women were removed from the address on October 25 was that police would not at that stage take any action.
A man and woman, both 67, who were arrested at the house on Thursday morning as part of the investigation, are of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s, police said.
They have been released on bail to a date in January.
Mr Rodhouse said the nature of the collective and how the women came to continue living at the address after it ended would form part of their investigation.
None of the women were reported missing after they were rescued, police said.
Officers have recovered a birth certificate for the 30-year-old
woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, the force added.
Mr Rodhouse said: “To gain the trust and confidence of highly-traumatised victims takes time, and this must move at their pace, not anyone else's.
“Part of the agreement on October 25 when they were removed from the suspects' address was that police would not at that stage take any action.
“Since that date we have been working to gain their trust and evidence, that came to fruition on November 21 when we were in a position to make arrests.”
Mr Rodhouse said the 30-year-old woman's birth certificate was the only official documentation for her which police have recovered.
“We believe she has lived with the suspects and the other victims all her life, but of course at this early stage we are still seeking out evidence,” he added.
Mr Rodhouse said police would not release any information which would reveal the identities of the women who are described as “emotionally fragile and highly vulnerable”.
“We must take every step to protect the identities of the victims, who are understandably emotionally fragile and highly vulnerable,” he said.
Freedom Charity founder Aneeta Prem, whose media appearances on forced marriage and dishonour violence prompted the Northern Irish woman to contact them, said the organisation had received five times as many calls in 24 hours since the arrests.
“We have seen an extraordinary rise in calls to our helpline since the rescue of the three women came into the public domain,” she said.
“We received five times as many calls in 24 hours as we normally do in one week and are needing to increase our resources to cope with this extra demand.
“These women have had traumatic and disturbing experiences, which they have revealed to us. What needs to happen now is that the three victims, who have begun a long process of recovery, are able to go through their rehabilitation undisturbed.”
It emerged yesterday that the couple on bail were previously arrested in the 1970s, although police have not said why they were detained.
Meanwhile, the MP in charge of reviewing evidence of slavery in Britain, Frank Field, said the Lambeth case was the “tip of a rather large iceberg”.
How the women were rescued from slavery
October 18 The Northern Irish victim, 57, contacts Freedom Charity after seeing its founder on TV. She was ‘distraught’' on the phone and said she had been held captive for 30 years with two others. She was also said to mention her ‘friend’ who was being refused medical help after suffering a suspected stroke.
October 25 She and the youngest victim, 30, meet the charity and police at a secret location before heading back to rescue the Malaysian woman, 69. They are taken to a place of safety.
November 21 A couple, both 67 and from Tanzania and India, are arrested on suspicion of immigration offences as well as slavery offences. They are bailed until January.
Brave Ulster woman asked to be rescued
By Maeve Sheehan
She was a young Northern Irish woman who moved to London in her twenties, no doubt full of dreams and possibilities.
By the time she was 27, she was living a life she could never have dreamed of: brain-washed, beaten and deprived of her liberty and subjected to such extreme emotional control that she felt she could never escape. She was the victim of a failed cult.
Until her dramatic rescue, along with two others who shared her life of servitude, from an “unremarkable” house in south east London, and the subsequent arrest of their suspected captors last week, has generated public enormous interest. One of the biggest unanswered questions
was how she and two other adult women could have remained enslaved in busy suburban London for more than three decades?
They owe their freedom to the now-57 year old woman who had the courage to make a phone call.
On September 9, a small London outfit called Freedom Charity promoted a new campaign aimed at raising awareness about missing schoolgirls.
Aneeta Prem, the group's founder and a magistrate in her own right, went on numerous television programmes to highlight how girls were being taken out of schools and forced into marriages. She cuts a striking figure, anyway, but over her numerous television appearances, something in her demeanour and in the name of her charity — Freedom — had a life changing resonance for with three women gathered around the telly in an “unremarkable” house in south east London.
The 57-year-old, who sources last night said was from Armagh, was the one who decided to act. As she later told Aneeta Prem, the Northern Irish woman turned to this small charity for help for two reasons. They trusted her from her television appearances and the word “Freedom” in the name of the organisation she founded also stuck.
So she had memorised the Freedom number that flashed up on screen during their campaign. On October 18, she got hold of a mobile phone. She spoke “in a whisper”, telling the counsellor at the other end that she was Irish and that she had been held captive for 30 years. She had at first talked about her “friend” but she later dropped that pretence.
“The Irish lady was incredibly distressed and that was the first time she made contact with anybody,” said Aneeta Prem.
As the call ended, the woman promised the counsellor that she would ring back. And over the following days, she did. It was always the Irish woman who phoned at a pre-arranged time, usually in the
early evening, and always from the same mobile phone.
Her main point of contact was Aneeta's sister, Vineeta Thornhill. But the woman also spoke to Aneeta, who found her “coherent” and very brave. The more they gained her trust, the more she told them.
They took things “at the Irish lady's own pace”, they were “empathetic” and believing her story,” Aneeta Prem said later. “And offering them real support on how things were going to change when they came out. Talking about the future was very important.
“I think it was after the third phone call that a lot more detail was being divulged and we could start really talking about how and when we were to get them out of the house,” said Aneeta.
On Friday, October 25, the charity, including Aneeta and her sister, arranged to be outside the house in Lambeth. There was also a police presence.
The Northern Irish woman came out first, followed by the younger British woman. An hour passed before the older Malaysian woman ventured outside.
According to a statement the Metropolitan Police issued later, they had to go into the property and “rescue her”.
Apparently, she had not been let in on the plan until a short time before, because the others were afraid that that she might get frightened and tell the couple.
According to Ms Prem, it was an “emotional” and “highly charged” moment.
There was much hugging and crying: “The women threw their arms around me. At that moment, we all started crying and they all said individually to us ‘thank you for saving our lives',” said Ms Prem.