A woman subjected to years of forced domestic labour has received a full apology from the police force which initially failed to protect her from the abuse or to investigate her allegations of cruelty and violence.
The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty says that the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, arrived in the UK on a domestic worker visa in 2005. Her passport was seized and she was forced to work without rest or pay. She was subjected to years of abuse in three different households – including physical attacks and several sexual assaults.
In March 2008 she managed to escape and report her treatment to the police, only to be taken back to the house where she was being abused. She suffered another month of cruelty before she eventually fled to safety.
A full investigation into the victim’s trafficking and forced labour did not follow until 2010, after Liberty had reminded the police of their obligations under the Human Rights Act. As a result three people were found guilty of offences including assault, rape and threats to kill in April this year.
Hertfordshire Police has now issued a full written apology to the victim, and paid her compensation, for the force’s earlier failings. The apology from the Assistant Chief Constable reads:
“I am writing to convey my sincere apologies for Hertfordshire Constabulary’s failures in relation to your allegations of forced domestic labour made in 2008.
"You were a vulnerable victim of a serious crime. I acknowledge that we failed to protect you from the risk of being subjected to forced labour by Mr and Mrs Obhrai when you reported your treatment to us in March 2008. I also acknowledge that we failed to investigate your allegations promptly, resulting in a considerable delay in bringing your abusers to justice. I am very sorry for the distress this must have caused you.”
Corinna Ferguson, Legal Officer for Liberty, said: “It is appalling that the police initially refused to believe this vulnerable, isolated woman – ignoring her desperate pleas and handing her back to her abusers.
“Today’s welcome recognition of such failings is the very least she deserves and we hope it means that lessons have been learnt for the future.
“Without the Human Rights Act, our client might never have achieved justice. Her heartbreaking story is another vivid reminder of how vital this much-maligned legislation is for our society’s most vulnerable.”