Women held for decades in ‘unremarkable’ London house now revealing their story
London’s slavery victims, including an Irish woman, will need years to rebuild their lives
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said the three women were beaten and forced to live a life of “invisible handcuffs”.
For now she is known only as “the Irish lady”. Her first bid for freedom came in a call to a charity from a carefully hidden mobile telephone on October 18th “in whispered voice”, during which she was “incredibly distressed”.
The call, “the most harrowing ever taken” by a Freedom Charity volunteer, was spartan in detail.
“That she was being held against her will – and had been for 30 years – and that was almost all we could gauge in that conversation,” said the charity’s founder Aneeta Prem.
“I think she was worried about revealing any information at all. That was the first time that she had made contact with anybody asking for help,” said Ms Prem, adding that she had not realised then that the caller was Irish because she “didn’t get the accent at all”.
Now in a safe house receiving care, the 57-year-old Irish woman, along with a 69-year-old Malaysian woman and a 30-year-old Briton, had spent more than 30 years in appalling circumstances, said the Metropolitan Police’s Cdr Steve Rodhouse.
“What we have uncovered is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years. Brainwashing would be a simple term, but I think that that belittles the years of emotional abuse that these victims have had to endure.”
In the first call the Irish woman had been asked where she was from, Ms Prem said, adding that the lady had replied “Ireland”, but said nothing more.
For now the Department of Foreign Affairs does not know her identity.
“Regarding personal details, we have not yet been given a name. Although the police have advised the Embassy that they are satisfied that one of the women is from Ireland, it has not been confirmed to us that she is an Irish citizen,” the Irish Embassy in London said.
For now, a family back in Ireland separated by more than 30 years would, if one exists, be a complication too far, since the women are vulnerable, distressed and only slowly coming to terms with a new life.
The first call from the Irish woman ended with a promise of more. Several happened in the days that followed. However, the telephone calls were organised against a backdrop of fear. Each of them was instigated by the Irish woman, who laid down when she could get free to call.
“We were very aware that she was very afraid of being caught on the telephone, that someone would find out,” said Ms Prem, who indicated that the calls were made when the Irish woman was out of the house.
Trust slowly built, said Ms Prem, who founded the charity three years ago. However, it was not a seamless journey. Following the first call, the three women panicked briefly, thinking that they had gone too far, taken too many risks.
“I think after the initial call there were second thoughts, about whether they were doing the right thing. It took a lot of persuasion and encouragement for them to come out, that it was the right thing to do.”
Slowly they calmed. “[We told them about] the outside world and that the future, and what it could potentially hold for them, would be a far better life than anything that they had experienced,” said Ms Prem.