For 24 years, Ofonime, originally from Nigeria, was forced to work unpaid as a ‘houseboy’ for a professional British couple, until an email to Hope for Justice secured his freedom.
He was brought to the UK in 1989, aged just 13, without his family’s permission, by a couple who lied to immigration officials and told them that he was their teenage son.
Ofonime had been told that, if he moved in with the Edets, he would be well paid and get to go to school. Instead, he was forced to work for up to 17 hours a day at their homes in Chatham, Scarborough, Walsall, Northolt and Perivale. He had to clean, cook, and care for the couple’s two sons, while they kept notes on the standard of his work. For long periods of time, he had to sleep on a hallway floor.
The Edets, who at one point had jobs in the NHS as an obstetrician and a midwife, controlled every aspect of Ofonime’s life – what he could wear, when he could leave the house and what language he could speak in. He was not allowed to enter most rooms in the house, except to clean them, and was forbidden from eating in the same room as the rest of the family.
With verbal abuse and threats that Ofonime would be arrested and deported if he went to the police, the Edets were able to prevent him from escaping for nearly a quarter of a century. They called him a “parasite” and even had remote controlled CCTV in the house to monitor him while they were away.
Then, in December 2013, the Edets returned to Nigeria for Christmas, leaving him alone at their home in Perivale for several weeks. Having heard some media reports about modern slavery, Ofonime took the opportunity to use the family computer to email Hope for Justice.
Hope for Justice referred the matter to the Met Police’s Trafficking and Kidnap Unit (TKU), and the next day detectives helped him leave and get specialist support. In March 2014, the Edets, from Perivale, north west London, were arrested and in December 2015, they were jailed for six years each.
DCI Phil Brewer of the Trafficking and Kidnap Unit, said: “When the victim left Nigeria, he was a young school boy with aspirations but the Edets abused him until he became timid, nervous and obedient. They conditioned him to the degree that when we visited him at the Perivale address and tried to lead him into the living room to speak, he became visibly shaken at the thought of breaking the Edets’ rules about going into that room. It was only when he went into the kitchen that he was able to relax and speak openly to police.”
“Today the victim is living a new life in the UK. He has a job, a home with his own bed and freedom to move, and he is studying. While he will never fully overcome what happened during those 24 years, he is determined to make the most of the rest of his life.”