By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Three women claiming to have been held in captivity as domestic slaves for 30 years have been rescued from a house in London and a man and a woman arrested, police and charity workers said on Thursday.
Police officers from a human trafficking unit took the man and woman, both aged 67, into custody at their home in south London early Thursday.
The arrests came after a 69-year-old Malaysian woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old British woman were rescued from the house. It was not known exactly when they were freed.
"All three women, who were highly traumatized, were taken to a place of safety where they remain," London Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
The trail to the women began in October when the Freedom Charity group reported a call from a woman who said she had been held against her will in the house for more than 30 years.
Further inquiries led to a non-descript house in south London and, with the help of negotiations conducted by the charity, the rescue of the three women.
Few details were immediately available but the fate of the women evoked memories of marathon abduction cases in both the United States and Austria.
Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland said a television documentary on forced marriages relating to the work of the Freedom Charity was the catalyst that prompted one of the London victims to call for help and led to their rescue.
But it took several weeks of gaining the women's trust before a rescue could go ahead, said Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity that works on issues including forced marriage.
"They had been trying for a number of years to work out a way to leave," Prem told Reuters, declining to give details on the location of the house. "People will be shocked this can happen in the UK and in a capital city like London."
The youngest woman had been held there "from a very young age", she said, adding that neighbors had not reported noticing anything untoward happening at the property.
The women were doing "remarkably well" physically and mentally under the circumstances, Prem said. "This will be a very long haul for them to try to return to a normal life."
In the United States, former bus driver Ariel Castro was convicted in August of the abduction, torture and decade-long confinement of three women. He was found hanged in his cell at an Ohio prison in September.
That followed two infamous cases in Austria.
Natascha Kampusch was found in 2006 after being kidnapped at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil and held captive for eight years. In 2009, Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life after keeping his daughter Elisabeth captive in a cellar for 24 years and fathering seven children with her.
(Additional reporting by Alex Winning, Editing by Stephen Addison and Mark Heinrich)