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Police: UK captives met suspect through 'shared political ideology'

By Susannah Cullinane, CNN
updated 12:42 PM EST, Sat November 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A couple is alleged to have held three women captive in London for more than 30 years
  • Police arrested the pair Thursday but later released them on bail until January
  • On Saturday police said the couple were of Tanzanian and Indian origin
  • Two of the victims appeared to have met the man through 'a shared political ideology'

London (CNN) -- Two of three women believed to have been held captive in London for more than 30 years met the man suspected of holding them through a "shared political ideology," London's Metropolitan Police revealed Saturday.

Police announced Thursday they had arrested a couple on suspicion of being involved in forced labor and domestic servitude after authorities took a Malaysian woman, 69, Irish woman, 57, and 30-year-old Briton to safety from a property in Lambeth, south London. They said the man and woman were both 67 and not British nationals.

In a statement Saturday, Cmdr. Steve Rodhouse said the suspects were of Indian and Tanzanian origin and had arrived in Britain in 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 said.

"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," he said.

Rodhouse said the collective somehow ended, but the women continued to live with the suspects.

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"How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what we are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives."

Rodhouse said the 30-year-old woman did have a birth certificate, but that was all the official documentation police could find.

"We believe she has lived with the suspects and the other victims all her life, but of course at this early stage we are still seeking out evidence."

On Friday, Rodhouse said that labeling the investigation as domestic servitude or forced labor was "far too simple" and that police were trying to understand "the invisible handcuffs" that had controlled the women.

"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," he said.

Police said Freedom Charity alerted them to the suspects in October after receiving a phone call from one of the victims.

"The woman found the courage to contact the charity after seeing a documentary on television we are informed was aired by the BBC," it said in a statement Friday.

With the "help of sensitive negotiations" by the charity, police met with the Irish and British women on October 25. The women identified the place where they said they had been held, allowing police to rescue the 69-year-old Malaysian woman and take all three to safety, Metropolitan Police said.

Freedom Charity spokeswoman Aneeta Prem said the organization took "immediate action" to plan a rescue after learning of the women's situation.

"Facilitating their escape was achieved using utmost sensitivity and secrecy and with the safety of the women as our primary concern," she said, describing the work of those involved as "outstanding."

A television documentary on forced marriages relating to the work of Freedom Charity prompted the call for help.

"They'd seen me on various news channels talking about forced marriage and dishonor violence, and they said I had a face they trusted, so they called our 24-hour helpline," Prem told CNN.

She said the process was "very difficult" and charity CEO Vineeta Thornhill was personally involved in the negotiations

"Throughout the process until they were rescued -- so it was over a week of speaking to them -- she gained their trust and confidence, and they believed that when they came out, they would be taken to safety, they would be looked after," Prem said.

"These ladies have spent 30 years in captivity as slaves and have come out with absolutely nothing at all," she said. "The road to freedom isn't going to be an easy one."

On Saturday, Prem said Freedom Charity had seen an "extraordinary" rise in calls to its help line since news of the case broke. She said the three victims need to "go through their rehabilitation undisturbed, without being identified."

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