Three 'deeply traumatised' women held as 'slaves' have been rescued from a house in South London, after a desperate call to a charity they saw on a television documentary.
The women were held captive for more than 30 years - including one who had never seen the outside world and may have been born in captivity, it was revealed today.
A couple, both 67, were arrested today at 7.30am at their home in Lambeth, south London, for keeping the alleged victims in permanent servitude for decades.
Described as 'heads of the family', they are accused of imprisoning the three women - a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old British woman.
Rescue: Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met's human trafficking unit spoke outside Scotland Yard today and revealed three women were rescued after at least 30 years as slaves, with the youngest having never seen the outside world
Freedom Charity, which aims to advise and support victims of forced marriages or honour-based violence, received a call following a television documentary on forced marriages.
The three women were rescued from a house in Lambeth, south London, last month, after the 57-year-old called the support charity asking for help, it is believed.
She told them she had been held against her will for more than three decades and all three were too frightened to leave.
What followed were secret, 'in-depth' conversations with the women, Aneeta Prem, Freedom Charity founder, told Sky News.
Police scrambled to track down the house in the borough of Lambeth, a mixed residential neighborhood south of the River Thames.
Prem said the women were able to walk out of the property - with police on standby - after those repeated, tentative calls.
'It had to be pre-arranged when they were able to make calls to us and it had to be done very secretly, because they felt they were in massive danger,' she said.
The youngest victim has 'had no contact with the outside world', police said this afternoon, and may have been born in captivity, with detectives admitting they had 'never seen anything of this magnitude before'.
The victims are so traumatised that police have been unable to interview them fully, so they are unsure about key details like if they are if any are related and if they suffered sexual abuse.
Discovery: Three female slaves, one held for more than 30 years, have been discovered in London after one contacted a charity run by Aneeta Prem (pictured)
Ms Prem said the alleged victims - who are believed to have suffered physical and mental harm - were able to walk out of the property after extensive calls with the charity.
She said they were being held in an 'ordinary house in an ordinary street', where neighbours would have had no idea what was happening.
'We started in-depth to talks to them when they could, it had to be pre-arranged. They gave us set times when they were able to speak to us,' she told Sky News.
'It was planned that they would be able to walk out of the property. The police were on standby.
Ms Prem said the two people arrested were considered the 'heads of the family', and that the women were 'absolutely terrified' of them.
She added: 'They felt 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 did have rooms that they could use but they were really restricted about what they could do and could never leave the front door.
‘They are together in a place of safety and are doing very well despite what has happened to them.
Location: The three women were discovered in a house in the London borough of Lambeth, which runs to Waterloo, Stockwell, Brixton, Vauxhall, Streatham and Clapham areas of south London
‘When we had found out that they came out of that house there were huge cheers here that they were safe. We hope they can have happy lives.
Breakthrough: Vineeta Thornhill, CEO at Freedom Charity, answered the initial phone call from the victim
‘It is absolutely unbelievable that people can ever find themselves in this position. It is an amazing story.
Asked about what help the women will be given, the charity founder said: 'They are going to be afforded all the help and support that can be.
'I'm so grateful they saw the news.
'Now they will try to re-build their lives.'
She added: 'They know they have a lot of help and support around them.
'And, also, they have got each other around them as well, so that's a positive. As a charity we've had no experience of this before at all. It's something that's out of all our comfort zones.'
All three, who police described as 'highly traumatised', are together in a secret location.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, from the Met's human trafficking unit, has told the BBC that interviews with the two suspects are being carried out now, and are expected to continue into the evening.
Both are being held at a south London police station, after their house was searched this morning.
He said earlier today: ‘This morning at approximately 7.30 we arrested two people in their 60s at an address in Lambeth as part of an investigation into slavery and domestic servitude.
‘We were contacted in October by Freedom Charity after they had received a call from women stating they were being held at an address in London for more than 30 years.
‘Through further investigation, we were able to identify the house where they were being held.
'With the help of sensitive negotiations, conducted by the charity, three women - a 69 year old from Malaysia, a 57-year-old from Ireland a 30-year-old British woman - were all rescued.
Shocking discovery: Scotland Yard said that one of the victims called a charity to say she was in captivity for thirty years and they then helped rescue her and two others
Q&A: WHAT THE POLICE KNOW ABOUT THE SLAVERY CASE
‘All three women were highly traumatised and were taken to a place of safety, where they remain. They are in the care of a charity who deal with people who are deeply traumatised.
‘These are deeply traumatised people and it is essential that we works sensitively to establish the facts in this case. When we had established the facts, we conducted the arrests this morning.
‘We’ve established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years. They did have some controlled freedom.
‘The human trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police deals with many cases of servitude and forced labour. We've seen some cases where people have been held for up to 10 years, but we've never seen anything of this magnitude before.’
A spokesman from the Met Police said were trying to establish if the woman believed to have spent her entire life in captivity had been born in the house, or taken there as a baby.
The victims are not believed to be related to each other, and there was no evidence of sexual abuse, police said.
The spokesman said that the victims were working very closely with Freedom Charity, and that information was being given to officers through the charity, leading to limited information being put out by the force.
‘The officers are getting as much as they can from the victims,’ she said.
‘The case at the moment is that the details are fairly sketchy, we are working with the victims via a charity so the process is slightly slower than normal.
‘The victims are very traumatised, it’s not something we can rush through.
‘Officers will interview the victims, but they will be assisted by the charity.’
The spokesman was unable to say when further information on the case would be released.
Borough: The three women were found in the London Borough of Lambeth, where officials at the town hall (pictured) said they were unable to comment on the case
The documentary which sparked victim's cry for help: Call to charity made in same month that force marriage programme shown on ITV
The phone call to Freedom Charity by one of the alleged victim's, reporting that she had been held against her will, came in October, the same month that a television documentary aired on forced marriage.
ITV documentary series Exposure, showed clerics at 18 UK mosques agreeing to marry off a girl of 14 in an Islamic ceremony.
Undercover reporters filmed the documentary, entitled Forced to Marry, which was broadcast on October 9, and involved two reporters posing as the mother and brother of a 14-year-old girl to be married to an older man.
Exposure: One of the undercover reporters posed as the mother of a 14-year-old and asked clerics if they would perform a marriage ceremony for her daughter
The journalists contacted 56 of mosques around the UK asking if they would perform the marriage of a 14-year-old girl.
Around two thirds of those contacted refused to perform am Islamic marriage, known as a nikah, making it clear they were disgusted at the request.
However, 18 of the respondents agreed, with one Iman saying ‘that’s not going to be a problem’.
Another cleric, Shams-ul-Huda Khan Misbahi, who preaches in Heckmondwike near Leeds, was shown assuring the reporters that the marriage would be ‘real’. Despite being told that the girl had only met her future husband once, the cleric condoned making her move in with the man against her wishes, claiming ‘everything is jaiz’, meaning lawful.
Campaigners claim thousands of girls are forced into the illegal ceremonies every year, in a boom fuelled by the ‘moral blindness of cultural sensitivity’.
Such weddings are not recognised by UK law.
Marriages can only be officially registered if both parties are over 16, which is also the age of sexual consent.
Agreed: Khan Misbahi, preacher at Jamia Masjid Kanzul Imam Mosque near Leeds agreed to marry the pair
However, under Islamic or sharia law, a girl can get married as soon as she reaches puberty.
Official figured suggest that the vast majority of forced marriages of British children happen abroad, although the Exposure investigation revealed that girls as young as 10 are being forced into marriage in this country.
Around 400 schoolchildren, mainly girls from South Asian communities, are forced into marriage every year in the UK.
The programme was made with the support of Freedom Charity, and founder Anita Prem was interviewed about the show prior to its air date.
She said: ‘I think whoever is involved in this, you are talking about child abuse and exploitation and it is something we need to stop.
‘People are too culturally sensitive when dealing with this, they are worried about offending particular groups. We have to say it’s immoral and illegal and stamp it out.
‘I think what we are hearing about is the tip of the iceberg, it is a huge problem.’
Since 2008, courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been able to issue civil orders to prevent forced marriage. Breaches can result in a two-year prison sentence for contempt of court.
Held against their will: The harrowing stories of people kept prisoner for decades by evil tormentors like Josef Fritzl and Ariel Castro
Josef Fritzl, Ariel Castro and Phillip Garrido are three of the world's most notorious kidnappers who have held their victims captive for decades.
In each case the women held were rescued and the stories generated headlines around the world.
In Britain businessman Ilyas Ashar, 84, and his wife Tallat, 68, were last month jailed for holding a deaf and mute child from Pakistan in captivity in their cellar.
Ashar sexually abused and beat the youngster who he brought to Salford, Greater Manchester, from Pakistan in June 2000 when she was aged just 10.
Ilyas Ashar (left) and his wife Tallat Ashar (right) were jailed for holding a Pakistani girl trafficked to the UK when she was aged just 10 in captivity for 13 years
She was also used to steal more than £30,000 in benefits.
The girl never went to school in Pakistan or Britain, but was taught by the Ashars to sign her name to claim benefits.
Ashar would routinely rape the girl in the cellar and other houses the family owned - though she would try to fight him off.
He was jailed for 13 years, while his wife was given five years in prison.
The most notorious kidnapper was Austrian father Josef Fritzl who was arrested five years ago after holding his daughter Elisabeth as a sex slave in a concealed basement for 24 years.
Elisabeth was repeatedly raped by her father and gave birth to seven of his children while in captivity.
Fritzl, now 78, kept three of them with him and his wife Rosemarie, who was oblivious to what lay beneath her home.
She thought the three children had been abandoned by Elisabeth after Fritzl convinced her that their daughter had ran away and the evil rapist masqueraded as the children's grandfather.
Josef Fritzl, pictured left, imprisoned his daughter in a tiny cellar, pictured right, underneath their family home in Amstetten, Austria, for 24 years and had seven children with her. It has now been filled with cement
Captivity: Natascha Kampusch was rescued in 2006 after being held captive for eight years. It had long been assumed she was the victim of a paedophile who murdered her
It was the critical illness of Elisabeth's 19-year-old incest daughter Kerstin in April 2008 which finally heralded the end of the secret cellar and its inhabitants.
Elisabeth Fritzl was rescued in Austria emerged just two years after Natascha Kampusch escaped after being held captive for eight years.
Miss Kampusch vanished on her way to school in Vienna in 1998 when she was ten.
Wolfgang Priklopil carved a secret, sound-proof cellar beneath his home in a suburb of the city in which to keep her captive for eight years.
Long considered the victim of a paedophile who had murdered her, Miss Kampusch finally escaped in August 2006.
In the US, Ariel Castro held three women in captivity for years before they got out in May this year.
Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, were rescued from the property in Cleveland, Ohio, after being kidnapped between 2002 and 2004.
They were found after Berry escaped from Castro’s house with her six-year-old daughter and contacted police. Castro later admitted 937 counts of rape, kidnap and aggravated murder for intentionally causing miscarriages. He was ordered to serve his whole life in prison in July with no chance of parole but hanged himself in his cell one month later.
At the time of their disappearances between 2002 and 2004 Amanda Berry was 16, Gina DeJesus was 14 and Miss Knight was 21.
Also in the US, Phillip Garrido held Jaycee Lee Dugard in captivity for 18 years before she was released in 2009.
Garrido and his wife nancy snatched 11-year-old Jaycee from a street in South Lake Tahoe in June 1991 while on her way to school.
She was held captive in a compound behind their home in Antioch, California house where Garrido repeatedly raped and drugged her. During her captivity, Dugard gave birth to two daughters fathered by Garrido.
Miss Dugard received $20million (£12.5million) from the state of California and Garrido was later sentenced to 431 years in prison while his wife Nancy was given 36 years.
In Missouri, US, a man was jailed in September for imprisoning a woman in his trailer for 20 years.
Edward Bagley, 46, and his wife Marilyn recruited the woman to live with them in ther rural trailer in 2002 and groomed her to become Bagley’s sex slave.
Monster: Ariel Castro, who had been jailed for life after kidnapping three women, was found dead in prison