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'Invisible handcuffs' used to control women enslaved for 30 years

Police investigating the case understand that they were not physically constrained.

New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.
New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.
Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THREE WOMEN HELD captive in a London house for 30 years were beaten and brainwashed, police in London said today.

Commander Steve Rodhouse of London’s Metropolitan Police said detectives were trying to understand the “invisible handcuffs” used to control the women, including a 30-year-old who had spent her entire life in servitude and one woman who is believed to be Irish.

“What we have uncovered so far is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years,” Rodhouse told reporters.

Brainwashing would be a simple term but I think that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure.

He also revealed that the two suspects in the case, a man and a woman both aged 67 who were arrested at a house in south London on Thursday, had been detained before in the 1970s, but gave no further details.

Also suspected of immigration offences, the pair — who are both foreign nationals — have been provisionally released until January pending further investigations.

Their passports have been confiscated and they are not allowed to return to the house.

The women were rescued on October 25, one week after first making secret telephone contact with a charity.

They are a a 57-year-old from Ireland, 69-year-old Malaysian, and the 30-year-old Briton.

Not sexually exploited

Detectives do not believe the women were sexually exploited or had been the victims of human trafficking, but they told police they had been beaten.

“It is not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address and not being allowed to leave,” said Rodhouse.

Explaining the gap between the liberation of the women and the arrests of the two suspects, police said they had to be patient in trying to understand the women’s accounts.

In Thursday’s raid in the borough of Lambeth, the suspects’ address was searched for 12 hours. Some 55 bags of evidence were seized, amounting to more than 2,500 exhibits.

All 37 officers in Scotland Yard’s Human Trafficking Unit (HTU), which deals with modern-day slavery cases,  are working on the investigation.

Specially-trained officers are working with the women to try to understand what happened to them.

‘May take weeks’

“This may take weeks, or many months,” said Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, who heads the unit.

He said officers did not believe the case was linked to any other groups and were not looking for further victims.

“There is nothing to suggest that the suspects were violent to others outside of the address,” he added.

Scotland Yard is in touch with the Malaysian and Irish embassies but officers would not disclose if they had discussed names with the missions.

image

Kevin Hyland, head of the Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit speaks to the media outside New Scotland Yard. (AP Photo/ Sky TV, via Associated Press Television)

Hyland said that during their captivity the women had been able to leave the house, but only in carefully-controlled circumstances.

The case has sparked national soul-searching amid fears it is the tip of an iceberg.

Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity which made contact with the women, said their plight had already prompted other people to come forward in the 24 hours since it was revealed.

© AFP 2013

Read: Enslaved women traumatised but doing ‘remarkably well’ >

More: Irish Embassy in London look to establish details behind woman freed from slavery >

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