Two people questioned after police rescued three alleged slavery victims, including a 30-year-old woman who had spent her whole life in servitude, were previously arrested in the 1970s, police say.
Commander Steve Rodhouse, of the Metropolitan police, said: “What I can say with some certainty is that the two suspects in this case were arrested by the Metropolitan police in the 1970s, some consdierably time ago.”
No more details on those arrests were given.
Whilst we do not believe that they have been subjected to sexual abuse, we know that there has been physical abuse, described as beatings. Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland
Police would not say why the man and woman, both 67, were arrested, or whether they were convicted at the time – adding that the current investigation “will take considerable time”.
The pair have been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences as well as in connection with the investigation into slavery and domestic servitude, Scotland Yard said.
The victims – a 30-year-old British woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman – are in the care of a specialist non-governmental organisation after they were rescued from a house in Lambeth, south London, last month.
It is thought that the 30-year-old woman had been in servitude all her life.
Specially trained officers are working with the women to try to understand their lives over the last 30 years or more, he said.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met’s human trafficking unit, said the women are in the care of a specialist non-governmental organisation.
“Whilst we do not believe that they have been subjected to sexual abuse, we know that there has been physical abuse, described as beatings.
“However there is nothing to suggest that the suspects were violent to others outside of the address,” he said.
Police said that over many decades the suspects and the victims would “probably have come into contact with public services”. They would not reveal the nationality of the two suspects but said they have been in the country for “many years”.
They said the case “so far is unique to us” and it was a “complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years”, in which the women were restrained by “invisible handcuffs”.
The three women kept captive were also described as “deeply traumatised”.
A 30-year-old British woman, believed to have never lived freely outside the house, was rescued along with a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman.
A rescue operation from a house in Lambeth, south London was staged last month after one of the women called a support charity asking for help.
Mr Hyland said there had been a delay in arresting the suspects after the women were freed on 25 October, as police tried to establish the facts of the case.
“The women were released as soon as possible,” he said. “There was a delay in the arrest. This was down to the fact that we had to work very carefully with these people who were highly traumatised and it was very difficult to establish the facts.
“We needed professional assistance from outside agencies. The last thing we wanted to do was increase that trauma. Until we had facts to justify where we are now, we delayed that arrest.”
Mr Hyland said he was unable to confirm any relationship between the suspects and the three women who were freed.
“Clearly, because of the nationalities of the women that have been held victims, it’s very unlikely they are related in any way,” he said.
“It’s part of our investigation – who had any freedom, what sort of freedom, under what conditions that freedom was allowed.”
Former Olympics minister Dame Tessa Jowell, who represents Dulwich and West Norwood, has been briefed by Scotland Yard detectives and Lambeth borough commanders about the case.
She said: “This is a hugely complex case which will be understood through the information provided by the three women, who are now in a safe place, being debriefed by people skilled to deal with these highly traumatised individuals.
“It will be important to be patient as the debriefing may take many weeks into months and only once that has been complete will we really understand how this happened, what actually happened and who knew what was going on.
“It’s clear from the briefings that I have had and also that the police have provided that, on the information available so far, this is not a situation that has any parallels with the Austrian or American imprisonment cases.”