Two of the three women allegedly held as slaves for at least 30 years had lived in a “collective” with the man arrested after meeting through a “shared political ideology”, police have disclosed.
Scotland Yard revealed fresh details of the “highly complex and difficult investigation” as officers conducted house-to-house inquiries in Peckford Place, Brixton, south London, where the women were found.
A man and woman, both 67, who were arrested on Thursday morning as part of the investigation, are of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s, police said.
They have since been released on bail to a date in January.
All three alleged victims – a 30-year-old British woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman – were believed to have suffered “emotional and physical abuse”, Metropolitan police commander Steve Rodhouse said.
The Met said that part of the agreement on October 25 when the women were removed from the address was that police would not take any action at that stage.
None of the women were reported missing after they were rescued, police said.
Officers have recovered a birth certificate for the 30-year-old woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, but no other official documents for her have been found.
Mr Rodhouse said: “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’.
“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. I will not give any further information about it.
“Somehow that collective came to an end and the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects.
“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.”
The case came to light after the Irish woman rang the Freedom Charity last month to say she had been held against her will.
All three women are now in the care of a specialist non-governmental organisation, police have said.
Mr Rodhouse said: “To gain the trust and confidence of highly-traumatised victims takes time, and this must move at their pace, not anyone else’s.”
He added that police would not release any information which would reveal the identities of the women who are described as “emotionally fragile and highly vulnerable”.
“I understand the huge public interest in this case, the desire for information and the shock that it has caused,” he said.
“However, we must take every step to protect the identities of the victims, who are understandably emotionally fragile and highly vulnerable.”
It emerged yesterday that the couple on bail were previously arrested in the 1970s, although police have not said why they were detained.
Freedom Charity founder Aneeta Prem, whose media appearances on forced marriage and dishonour violence prompted the Irish women to contact them, said the organisation had received five times as many calls in 24 hours as they usually get in one week since the arrests.
“We have seen an extraordinary rise in calls to our helpline since the rescue of the three women came into the public domain,” she said.
“We received five times as many calls in 24 hours as we normally do in one week and are needing to increase our resources to cope with this extra demand.
“These women have had traumatic and distributing experiences, which they have revealed to us.
“What needs to happen now is that the three victims, who have begun a long process of recovery, are able to go through their rehabilitation undisturbed, without being identified.”
Meanwhile, the MP in charge of reviewing evidence of slavery in Britain said the Brixton case was the “tip of a rather large iceberg”.
Frank Field, chair of the Modern Slavery Bill evidence review, said criminal gangs were making “huge sums of money” from people being imported into the UK to work “almost for nothing”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Field said many victims who escape have no way of communicating because they speak little or no English and often come from countries where they are “deeply suspicious” of the police.
“We’ve had this example of domestic slavery but people are being imported to work, almost for nothing, in industry,” he said.
“We’ve got begging gangs being developed, with people being imported. And of course we’ve got the whole question of how children are being imported to work. It’s a whole range of issues we’ve got to wake up to.”
Mr Field said it appeared the issue of slavery was getting worse as authorities were becoming more successful with prosecutions.
“If you think where other countries have started to be serious about this, the numbers have risen sharply,” he said.
“I would have thought it’s safe to act on the assumption that the examples we’ve had in the last few months are the tip of a rather large iceberg.”