London 'slavery' case: Victim held written notes at window

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda are suspected of holding three women as slaves for 30 years

A former neighbour of three women allegedly held captive in London has told how one of them stood at a window holding notes.

Charlotte Watts, who lived at a property in Shakespeare Road, Brixton, in the 1980s and 1990s said the woman would stand at the window "for hours".

She said: "I do remember her writing these notes... I could never read what they were saying."

The three alleged victims, aged 30, 57 and 69, were rescued last month.

'Desperately sad'

Married couple Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda were arrested on Thursday, the BBC understands.

Image caption Charlotte Watts lived two doors down from the group in south London in the 1980s and 1990s

They were arrested on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and slavery as well as immigration offences, and have been released on bail until January.

Ms Watts said: "Because [the window] was so high up and [the notes] were in biro, I could never read what they were saying, so I feel desperately sad if she was trying to communicate something there."

Ms Watts said she remembered seeing three women from the house regularly at a launderette.

She said: "They were different; they appeared quite vulnerable and they didn't have any social skills whatsoever.

"They used to walk in a line and they never made any eye contact. Everybody used to know about them and talk about them, and we always thought it was a halfway house for abused women."

Ms Watts said eventually the younger of the three women spoke to her and later knocked on her door saying they were going to move house but did not want to.

Ms Watts said she found information for them and took it to the house where a man answered the door.

She said: "He was very polite but there was absolutely no way I was going to be allowed in the house... he just took the letter and quite quickly shut the door on me.

'Total hell'

"Even when [the women] got to the situation where maybe they could knock on a neighbour's door to ask for help, they couldn't express it. They certainly didn't say, 'we're being held prisoner'.

"It was always quite confused and I often didn't quite understand what they were talking about. They were obviously trapped in a total hell."

Ms Watts added that she was never aware of a child living in the property.

The arrested couple have been linked to 13 addresses across London, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed.

Officers said the women from Britain, Ireland and Malaysia had suffered years of "physical and mental abuse" and lived together as a "collective" after two of the women met the man through a "shared political ideology".

Police said the 30-year-old woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, had a birth certificate but no other official papers.

The case came to light after the Irish woman rang Freedom Charity to say she had been held against her will.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites