Just last week it was revealed that three women who had been held against their will in a south London residence had escaped to freedom. Police also announced that all three captives – slaves according to the media – had been held for over 30 years suffering appalling physical and mental abuse at the hands of their captors who were an elderly couple.
The escape was coordinated and supervised by the Police and a victims' charity who had initially been contacted by one of the captives. Once the women were safely in the care of the Charity they were able to supply further evidence of their long incarceration. It was only after they had this information that police moved in and arrested the captors.
This afternoon police named the arrested pair as former political activists Aravindan Balakrishnan,73 and his wife Chanda, 67.
Here is how the escape was reported last week
As the story developed through the week political leaders and other commentators lined up to condemn the horror that is slavery in modern day Britain – or should that be modern day slavery in Britain? Frank Field, respected Labour MP was quoted by the BBC Breakfast show as saying “ The examples that we have had over the last few months are the tip of a rather large iceberg.” Mr Field is currently gathering evidence in advance of drafting a new Modern Slaver Bill for Parliament.
Home Secretary Theresa May was not to be outdone. On hearing of the womens' escape she told the Sunday Telegraph that slavery in the UK was widespread. She said figures showed that it had increased nationwide by 25% in the past year. She told the paper that tackling “this abhorrent crime” was for her a “personal priority.”
Frank field and Theresa May are not far wrong. They are right to highlight this issue and to give it the prominence that it deserves. There is a very real and growing problem of people trafficking, slavery and indentured labour in this country. The victims for the most part end up working for poor wages in factories, farms or as domestic servants. Others are engaged in prostitution and drug dealing. There are low-paid workers engaged in every industry from beauty to fast food.
The captives are held through coercion, blackmail and emotional and psychological torture. For the most part they have nobody to turn to for help. Many cannot simply up and leave. Their captors will usually hold passports and other immigration documents to prevent them from leaving.
As the police named the “slave masters” this afternoon it became increasingly doubtful that this was a case of trafficking or slavery in the usual sense.
Here is one possible explanation of what may have happened.