London has again shown that amongst its glittering palaces and hi-tech skyscrapers lives an exploited underclass living in quasi-medieval serfdom.
A man and woman, both aged 67, have been released on bail pending further inquiries after three women were rescued from their Lambeth address, one of whom has spent her entire life in domestic servitude in the house.
“The human trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We have seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years, but we’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before,” says the head of the Metropolitan police’s Human Trafficking unit Kevin Hyland.
The Freedom Charity led the police action against the foreign couple after one of the captives saw an anti-slavery TV documentary and got in touch. Aged 69, 57, and 30, the youngest appears to have been born there.
“I think it took enormous courage and bravery to pick up the phone, because actually, people become institutionalised, even to slavery, and it’s a very brave thing they’ve done. They’re doing as well as we can expect them to, but they were held in a very difficult situation. And you know, 30 years of your life to be taken away is completely horrendous,” says Freedom Charity’s founder Aneeta Prem.
The story has made front-page news around the world and is a grim reminder in the run-up to Christmas that not everything is festive within a stone’s throw of Oxford street.