Night after night, the 6 o’clock news tears at our heart strings. The news is ‘that which makes us fearful’ coupled with ‘that we are responsible for and must pay to alleviate’. The newscasts are interspersed with advertisements – £2 a week for this, £5 for that. We are the Modern Day Slaves working to atone for everything from the Giant Pandas failure to copulate to middle aged regrets over past copulations.
I found myself wondering ‘whatever happened to the London Slaves’? We ‘all know’ we have slavery in London, we remember the arrests; the television news night after night, the earnest interviews with neighbours, the front page pictures of the house of horrors that the women had been held in for 30 years. We have heard nothing since – it must be sub judice; the newspapers drawing a discrete veil over the gory details in the name of a ‘fair trial’ of the evil perpetrators?
Not at all. The newspapers are free to discuss the case – no charges have been laid. Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda have done the ‘perp walk’; their alleged crimes have gone down in folklore (and a lot else besides, as you will see); apart from that, all that has happened is a few ‘interviews’ with the Police, quietly chomping away at the 24 hours (with an additional 12 hours available) during which they can require you to remain at a police station ‘answering questions’. As we have discovered in the case of Freddie Starr, and indeed several journalists, among them Neil Wallis, that 24 hours can be 24 visits to the police station for one hour interviews, or indeed 48 visits for half hour interviews. The ’24 hours rule’ was sold to us as a protection for suspects – they couldn’t be held at the police station for longer than 24 hours – but it has been turned into an instrument of control; there is nothing in the PACE regulations which stipulates how long ‘police bail’ can last, nor how many interviews the 24 hour PACE clock can contain.
Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda’s last interview was in April 2014, they have been told that Police expect to find time to talk to them again before the end of June. As Phillip Smith said of Neil Wallis:
All the time, throughout this process, the individual concerned is dangled on the end of a piece of string. Their life is in limbo, they cannot make professional or personal plans with confidence since they are unaware as to how the investigation will proceed and with what end result. Their careers will invariably be rudely interrupted. The potential domestic impact is obvious.
It is equally true that throughout all this time, the ‘value’ of their ‘alleged crime’ remains unchallenged. What may well turn out to be a myth continues its work. I was shocked when I found quite what can be built on the back of an unchallenged allegation. I shouldn’t have been after witnessing at close quarters the carnage that has followed in the wake of Karin Ward’s allegations…..
Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda’s alleged crimes were described by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, as ‘the tip of the iceberg’, the visible face of the evil that our betters could see clearly.
Over two hundred years after William Wilberforce’s success in abolishing the slave trade, the British Parliament has a second opportunity to abolish slavery entirely. But slavery flourishes to this day, though, unlike two hundred years ago, it is now invisible. It continues on behind front doors, in factories and on farms, in brothels and on the streets of our towns and cities.
So clearly could our betters see this evil, that within two weeks she set about preparing for new legislation – ‘The Modern Slavery Bill’ to combat this evil. Frank Field has been chairing a committee listening to evidence; 3 QCs and 3 barristers have been helping him to sift through the evidence from no less than 61 organisations involved in the fight against modern day slavery in Britain who gave written evidence, and the additional 58 organisations who turned up in person to plead their case…
We have been fortunate that a very large number of people and organisations have eagerly given oral as well as written evidence and, indeed, some have actively lobbied to do so. [My emphasis].
Strangely, the one organisation I would have expected to be in the forefront of this charge to convince of the necessity for legislation to curb this hidden evil, was the Freedom Charity. Whyfore? Let me explain.
The ‘Freedom Charity’ is a very new charity, formed in 2009, by Aneeta Prem, a London Magistrate who hails from Himachai Pradesh, and thus had first hand knowledge of the misery caused by forced marriages. She persuaded the government’s Forced Marriage Unit and the Metropolitan Police to stump up £10,000 to pay for a mobile phone app which looks like a harmless game, but in fact contains information to advise victims of forced marriages where they can seek help. She has attracted some £38,000 in donations to pay for the alleviation of ‘suffering as a result of cultural practices’. She has used this to maintain a 24 hour telephone helpline. So far so good – and my congratulations to the lady.
Just a couple of weeks before Frank Field set up his committee to investigate modern day slavery and prepare for legislation, the tip of which iceberg was the ‘Balakrishnan case’, a lady called Josephine Herival had telephoned the ‘Freedom Charity’ helpline. Not because she was suffering from cultural practices, nor the subject of a forced marriage – Josephine claimed that she was being held as a modern day slave. By Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda, and had been for 30 years.
Not held physically, you understand. She was able to make telephone calls, and surprisingly receive them – The Freedom Charity managed to phone her several times over the following days. And letters – one of her ‘fellow captives’ wrote some 500 to her neighbour Marco Feneck and pushed them through his letterbox, er, letters complaining that she was locked in and unable to leave the flat, to er, push anything through anyone’s letterbox…
“And then they imprisoned me here, locking all the doors and windows. I can’t get out on my own. The place is crawling with them. I daren’t try anything because I know they will do something evil to you if I do. “
Notwithstanding living some 200 yards from Brixton Police Station, able to communicate at will with neighbours and telephone contacts, indeed argue with Police who called at the house over another matter – that phone call to the Freedom Charity electrified matters. Thirty-seven officers from the Met’s human trafficking unit worked on the case. The women were handed to the Charity for ‘specialist care’ once they had been ‘rescued from captivity’. The news crews from around the world were summoned to peer at a lowly council flat in Brixton where Britain’s version of Natascha Kampusch had been ‘held in servitude and slavery’ and the Modern Day Slavery Bill was off to a cracking start.
All this before we even know if Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda committed any acts that the CPS think might lead to a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ never mind be actually guilty of?
The usual suspects were lined up to give evidence regarding modern day slavery as requiring legislation in Britain. The Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation – an organisation in which Professor Kevin Bales, holds the chair in ‘Contemporary Slavery’; a matter for which he was recently happy to inform a ‘prestigious conference’ in Belfast, that there was no reliable data…..too hidden see, only the cognoscenti can see it, not neighbours or friends.
The Sophie Hayes Foundation – another new charity; they have a book, naturally, Sophie’s Story; a terrifying tale of innocent British girl forced to work as a prostitute in Italy and entertain ‘up to 30 men a night’. The man who ‘enslaved’ her has never been found, so I don’t quite get how she couldn’t ask for help in Italy because he would have ‘harmed her family in Britain’, but now she is in Britain and has established a lucrative career speaking about how prostitutes are ‘forced’ through the evil of human trafficking to work, she no longer fears for her family. Maybe the men from the Metropolitan Human Trafficking Unit are providing 24 hour cover for them?
TARA – a government funded programme in Glasgow which believes that ‘commercial sexual exploitation is a form of violence against women that is harmful to women’. They want to see an end to commercial sexual exploitation – otherwise known as prostitution. You have been ‘trafficked’ if you have moved around the UK and ‘Trafficking is a form of modern slavery’ – yes, they are happy to add their pennies worth to see a ‘Modern Slavery bill’.
I could go on – but there were over 100 of them, interested parties, all cheering for a Modern Day Slavery Bill.
What of the alleged victims of Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda? We don’t know, but they seem to have been put hard at work, unpaid, unable to escape, forever poster children for a growing network of Charities jostling for funds to carry on their business…
Josephine Herivel, Aishah Wahab, and Rosie Davies may meet the definition of ‘slaves’ after all, but enslaved by whom?
Commander Steve Rodhouse has said: “there may have been ‘many and varied offences’ against the women, who were allegedly held captive at various addresses in London, but that their ordeal may not be defined as slavery.”
So what – we are going to get the Modern Slavery Bill after all. Life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of trafficking (which under the British definition includes arranging air tickets for a prostitute to work in another country) and ‘putting the principles of victim care and services on a statutory footing and making it easier for victims to claim compensation’; changes that are morally right, politically expedient and fundamental to effective prosecution.
“The law needs to be changed to inaugurate a scheme where they have the legal right to remain [and] to acquire a British passport and a scheme that helps them to a productive way of life, which does not involve forced labour. They did not come here voluntarily. They are not illegal immigrants.”
Apparently British Catholics are behind the drive to ‘rescue’ fallen women:
Nuns are joining police officers in raids on brothels to help release the victims.
It’s morally right innit? We all know that slavery still exists in Britain 200 years after Wilberforce, saw it on our TVs didn’t we? Those women in Brixton. Just the tip of the iceberg it was.
Edited 24.09.2014 to add: Chanda Balakrishnan has been released from bail and will face no charges. Aravindan Balakrishnan ‘may’ face charges related to sexual offences, he has not ‘so far’ been charged with any offences relating to ‘Slavery’.