LONDON -- City police on Thursday announced that three women had been rescued from a city home where they claim to have been held against their will for about 30 years, and that a married couple who lived there had been arrested.
A Malaysian woman, 69, an Irish woman, 57, and a British woman, 30, were freed from the house in the Lambeth district in south London in October, after one of the women contacted a charity that helps victims of forced marriage, police said at a news conference. They said the youngest woman had apparently been held captive her entire life.
The two suspects, an unidentified man and a woman, both 67, were arrested Thursday and were being held in a south London police station pending charges. British police generally do not identify suspects until charged. Police would not say whether the couple owned the home, and declined to elaborate on other details.
While the captives had enjoyed some "controlled freedom," police said, they had been forced to perform domestic tasks. Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the Metropolitan Police's Human Trafficking Unit said most of their days were likely spent indoors, but it remained unclear under what conditions and whether they had been held in more than one house. Poliec said they did not appear to be related.
"We have had some other cases we have dealt with previously where we know that people have been held for periods of up to 10 years, but never anything on this scale before," Inspector Hyland said.
At least one of the women may have been forcibly married to the man in the house, said an official close to the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it. Although Inspector Hyland said there was no evidence that the women had suffered sexual abuse, this official said police suspected otherwise.
"The woman appears to have been through some kind of religious marriage ceremony with the male member of the couple that kept them," he said. All three seemed to have been used as unpaid domestic helpers, but "manipulated" into believing that staying was in their best interest, he said. The eldest, the Malaysian, was with the couple the longest, 30 years, he said.
After a television documentary on forced marriages was broadcast in October, the Irish woman contacted Freedom Charity, which specializes in helping victims of such marriages and whose work was featured in the program, said charity founder Aneeta Prem. "I can't go into too many details, but they managed to get to a phone and make a call to us," she told Sky News.
Working with Freedom Charity, police tracked the calls to the home where the women were living. They moved swiftly to free them, but spent weeks assembling evidence before making the arrests Thursday.