Speaking today Matt Bell Lambeth Police Borough Commander today met with senior Lambeth Council representatives and community members to consider the impact of this case on local communities. The disclosures will inevitable cause some anxiety and concern in our communities.
Over 150 languages are spoken within Lambeth enriching this diverse community. We would wish to keep out community informed as appropriate of developments in this matter and remind them of our collective determination to keep them and Lambeth safe. Please see below for latest police press briefing.
Leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Lib Peck said, “Everyone has been horrified and shocked by the reports of three women allegedly being held against their will in Lambeth. It is vital that the police conduct a thorough investigation into these extremely complex and serious allegations and that the women receive support following their appalling ordeal. We will offer any assistance the police require to ensure there is justice for the women.”
A briefing was held at New Scotland Yard today, Friday 22 November, by Commander Steve Rodhouse, Specialist Crime and Operations and Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland from the Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) to discuss the work of the HTU following the investigation on Thursday, 21 November into slavery and domestic servitude.
Commander Rodhouse said today: “We understand the immense public interest in this case and we want to do all we can to help explain what we can about this unique case.
“What we must do is everything we can to protect the integrity of our investigation and ensure that we do not damage the collection of evidence or the chances of bringing this to a successful criminal prosecution. Equally we need to respect the needs of the victims in this case.
“This investigation will take some considerable time. There are a number of lines of enquiry to follow up, numerous statements to take, and a number of exhibits to examine.
“We are unpicking a story that spans at least 30 years of these women’s lives, and all of this requires police activity to turn that into evidence.
“Whilst that process continues we have released the suspects on bail, but they have not returned to the property where we carried out the operation yesterday.
“Our HTU have built up considerable experience over the years dealing with the evolving crimes of what people are prepared to do to exploit others and the conditions they enforce upon their victims.
“They are different though from this case. As an example we had a case where a woman was brought over from India to the UK and held as a domestic slave. She was moved around three different houses with one being a wealthy family. She was made to cook and clean for a number of hours per day. This woman was beaten and sexually assaulted and not paid for any of the work carried out.
“This case is sadly what we probably all understand as forced labour and domestic servitude, slavery in simple terms.
“But the details that the investigation into the arrests yesterday has uncovered, something that is, so far unique to us and does not compare to any previous investigations we have carried out.
“We do not believe that this case falls into the category of sexual exploitation, or what we all understand as human trafficking.
“It is not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address and not allowed to leave. What Kevin and his team are trying to understand is what were the invisible handcuffs that were used to exert such a degree of control over these women.
“Trying to label this investigation as domestic servitude or forced labour is far too simple. What we have uncovered so far is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years, brainwashing would be the most simplest term, yet that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure.
“We believe at this stage to the outside world this may have appeared to be a ‘normal’ family. This does mean that over the course of many decades the people at the heart of this investigation and their victims will probably have come into contact with public services, including our own, that is something we must examine fully, and it is too early to provide details.
“What I can say with some certainty is that the two suspects in this case were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Service in the 1970s, some considerable time ago. We cannot say anymore on this at at this stage. As for any other contact we are researching that as you would expect.
“I must take great care not to provide information that could lead to the identification of the subjects.”
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, said: “The whole of the HTU, 37 officers, are now working on this investigation, with access to specialist trained officers and units within the MPS.
“Specially trained officers are working with the women to try and understand their lives, and what has taken place over the course of the last 30 years. This may take weeks and many months. The HTU have had a great deal of experience in obtaining accounts from victims who have suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The very process of explaining what has happened to them is in itself a very traumatising experience.
“From the outset of us receiving the information the well-being of those women has been our priority, and they continue to be 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 towards others outside of the address.
“The two people we arrested yesterday are on bail, they have also been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences and we are working closely with the Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
“I am not prepared to disclose the nationalities of the two people arrested but they have been in this country for many years, we also do not believe the victims were trafficked into the UK.
“At this very early stage we do not believe that this investigation is linked to any other groups, and whilst it is too soon to be categoric we do not believe we are looking for other victims.
“I stress this is what we know now, and as our investigation moves on that may change. Last night our search of the address in south London took 12 hours, we seized 55 bags of evidence amounting to in excess of 2,500 exhibits that require examination.
“This investigation will continue for as long as is necessary and will go where the evidence takes us, what is most important to the team is that this investigation can reach the most proper and appropriate conclusion, be that ultimately a criminal prosecution.
“The Human Trafficking Unit was first formed in April 2010. Since then we have run 150 operations that have resulted in 261 arrests , 288 charges and to date 79 convictions, with a further 38 individuals awaiting trial.”
Commander Rodhouse concluded the briefing by saying: “I would like to repeat we do understand the interest in this case – and we wish to do what we can to help the public understand what has taken place. However, we cannot and will not prejudice that case, or the safety, care and well being of the victims.
“I can say with great certainty that the help, support and knowledge that organisations such as Freedom Charity are crucial and I want to publicly thank them for the work they do. In this case, their work has been exceptional.
“I would to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery of the women who contacted police and hope that it may inspire confidence in anyone else who is out there who is living in fear, suffering emotional or physical abuse, no matter what the circumstances.
“We are committed to supporting victims ensuring they can access specialist services and that we bring those criminals responsible for human exploitation or misery of any kind.”