LONDON (Reuters) - Three women enslaved for 30 years in a London house were beaten and subjected to psychological abuse, in one of the worst cases of domestic servitude to emerge in Britain, police said on Friday.
The women were rescued from the house in south London four weeks ago after calling an anti-slavery charity for help. On Thursday police investigating the case arrested a man and a woman, both aged 67.
Police said the couple were not British but had lived in the UK for long time and had been arrested in the 1970s, without giving further details. They said the couple’s passports had been confiscated and they had been released on bail, with orders not to return to the house.
Investigators said the three women had faced physical abuse including beatings over decades in servitude. They had had only “controlled freedom” to enter the outside world.
“What we are finding is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years,” Commander Steve Rodhouse told a news conference, adding it could take months to unravel exactly what had happened over the past 30 years.
He said the group might have seemed a normal family to many outsiders, which could explain why the enslavement went on so long.
Police have released few details about the women but ruled out any blood ties between the 69-year-old Malaysian woman, 57-year-old Irish woman and 30-year-old Briton. The three were said to have left the house deeply traumatized and are now in the care of professionals.
The youngest was thought to have lived her entire life in servitude.
Rodhouse said investigators had found no evidence of sexual exploitation, human trafficking or the women being physically restrained inside the house.
“What (we) are trying to understand is what were the invisible handcuffs that were used to exert such a degree of control over these women,” he added.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland of the London Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit, leading the investigation, said he did not believe any other groups or victims were involved.
Police have taken 55 bags of evidence from the house containing 2,500 items.
“While we do not believe that they have been subjected to sexual abuse, we know there has been physical abuse described as beatings,” Hyland said.
The rescue was staged after the Irishwoman phoned the Freedom Charity after watching a BBC documentary about slavery and forced marriage.
A week later, police met the two younger women outside the home who led them to the house, where they rescued the 69-year-old.
Hyland said the two people arrested were under investigation over slavery and domestic servitude and also under suspicion of immigration offences.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday described the case as “utterly appalling”.
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity, told Reuters the publicity around the case had prompted a flood of calls.
An inaugural global slavery index last month estimated up to 4,400 people in Britain were held in modern-day slavery which can include domestic servitude, sex work or low-paid jobs in nail salons, agriculture, construction and restaurants.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Stephen Addison and Andrew Roche