Enslaved Irish woman’s phone call led to freedom

Three women held in London house for 30 years

The telephone call that led to freedom for three women who were held as slaves for 30 years in a London house was made by one of them, a 57-year-old Irish woman.

The Irish woman, a 69-year-old Malaysian woman and a 30-year-old British woman left the house in Lambeth several weeks after the Irish woman had watched a documentary in early October about forced marriages by Muslim clerics in British mosques.

The programme, broadcast on October 9th, prompted her to ring an aid agency, Freedom Charity, nine days later. The Metropolitan Police said the woman claimed she had been held “against her will” for 30 years, and that two others were held with her.

The charity notified the Metropolitan Police’s sex crimes unit. Detectives dealing with human trafficking became involved on Monday, October 21st. Because the Irish woman had not been able to give an address, it took some days to track the women down.


The Irish woman and the 30-year-old woman left the house on October 25th and met with police. Police then went to the address and rescued the older woman.

Since then, the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit, doctors and psychologists have worked to help “the severely traumatised women” to put the story of their three decades together.

Early yesterday, police raided the house and arrested the 67-year-old husband and wife. They were being questioned in a south London police station last night. If charged and convicted, they could face 14 years in jail for forced labour and servitude.

The couple are not British nationals, but no more information has been given.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said the women had "controlled, but limited freedom" during their years in Lambeth, but the extent of this freedom is unknown.

“We don’t know if the 30-year-old woman was born in the house, but [she] has spent her whole life in servitude and forced labour,” he said. So far, it is believed she is not related to the other victims or the alleged perpetrators.

“All three women were deeply affected and traumatised. They have been taken to a place of safety in order to assist their recovery. Because these are deeply traumatised people it was essential that we took things slowly,” Det Insp Hyland explained last night

The head of Freedom Charity, Aneeta Prem said the couple arrested yesterday were the heads of the family, adding that the women had been “absolutely terrified” of them and felt that they were “in massive danger.

“I don’t believe the neighbours knew anything about it at all. It was just an ordinary house in an ordinary street. They were very restricted on everything they could do,” she said.

The Metropolitan Police said it had previously freed victims who have been held in forced labour and servitude for 10 years, adding: "We know that all three were there for at least 30 years."

Four members of an Irish traveller family were the first to be convicted under new anti-slavery laws in 2012.

Some of their victims – homeless men who had been recruited with the promise of a job – were held for two decades.

Detectives suspect the women were held in premises other than a street house in Lambeth at some point – if only because the idea that they could be held in such a property for so long without discovery is baffling.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times