LONDON - A couple accused of keeping three women as slaves in a London house for 30 years are of Indian and Tanzanian origin and two of the victims were part of a political "collective", police said on Saturday.
The two older victims involved in Britain's most shocking case of modern-day slavery are thought to have met the male suspect through a "shared political ideology" and initially lived with him as part of a collective, London's Metropolitan Police said.
The third victim, a 30-year-old woman, is believed to have spent her entire life in servitude in a case that has stunned Britain.
Police commander Steve Rodhouse said the couple, both aged 67, were of Indian and Tanzanian origin and had been living in Britain since the 1960s.
"We believe that two of the victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology, and that they lived together at an address that you could effectively call a 'collective'," he told reporters.
"Somehow that collective came to an end and... the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects." Police carried out house-to-house enquiries on Saturday, speaking to residents living near the south London address where the women were held.
The exact location has not been revealed but the police operation centred on a modern, low-rise block of flats in Peckford Place in Brixton, an area known for its vibrant nightlife and large Afro-Caribbean community.
Crowds of journalists gathered at the scene, two days after police first disclosed that the women had been rescued and their two alleged captors arrested as part of an investigation into slavery.
Neighbours spoke of their shock as police stood guard on Peckford Place. "The problem with this place is people don't speak to each other," said local resident Abdul Rogers.
"I don't even know my next-door neighbour," he added. "If I met them on the street now I would not be able to tell it was my next-door neighbour, which is not good for community cohesion."
Bound by 'invisible handcuffs'
The victims are a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old Irish woman and the 30-year-old Briton. They were freed on October 25 after one of them made secret telephone contact with a charity. Their alleged captors, who are suspected of immigration offences as well as involvement in forced labour, have been provisionally freed until January pending further investigations. "The people involved, the nature of that collective and how it operated is all subject to our investigation and we are slowly and painstakingly piecing together more information," Rodhouse said on Saturday.
Police said the women had been beaten and brainwashed, but they are not believed to have been sexually abused.
Rodhouse said on Friday that police had uncovered a "complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years".
The women were occasionally able to leave the house, and detectives are trying to understand the "invisible handcuffs" that were used to control them.
The Observer newspaper reported Sunday that social workers were aware of the dysfunctional arrangements in the house, but were unable to intervene because the victims did not want any action taken.
They were freed after the Irish woman made secret telephone contact with the Freedom Charity - which normally deals with forced marriage and honour-based abuse - after seeing its work on a television programme.
The charity's founder Aneeta Prem said its helpline had received "an extraordinary rise in calls" since the story was made public.
"We received five times as many calls in 24 hours as we normally do in one week," she said.
She stressed that the three victims must be allowed "to go through their rehabilitation undisturbed, without being identified".
Specially-trained officers are now working with the women to try to understand what happened to them, while all 37 officers in Scotland Yard's Human Trafficking Unit are working on the investigation.
The couple had been previously arrested during the 1970s, police revealed on Friday, without specifying further details.