A husband and wife allegedly kept a Nigerian woman with the learning age of a four-year-old as their domestic slave, the High Court heard.
Prosecutors claim the woman, brought to Belfast to be a maid and babysitter, received no payment and was unable to leave a locked family home amid fears of being returned to a life of poverty.
Details emerged as pregnant mother-of-two Precious Izekor was refused bail on a charge of requiring the woman to perform forced or compulsory labour over a nine-month period.
The 25-year-old financial adviser, of Castlereagh Place in East Belfast , is accused along with her husband, 33-year-old Nigerian national Osarobo Izekor, of committing the offence between December 2016 and October 2017.
The couple are the first to be prosecuted in Northern Ireland for alleged involvement in domestic servitude. Detectives from the PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit were called in after the alleged 30-year-old victim told a church friend about how she was brought to Northern Ireland in 2011, the court heard.
Crown lawyer Jonny Connolly said the woman claimed she was not allowed access to her passport or visa. According to her account she worked at two locations as part of a wider family arrangement, and was at one point told that she would receive up to £350 a month for cooking, cleaning and childcare duties.
It was alleged, however, that she was paid no cash while her family back in Nigeria the equivalent of £21 a month.
Setting out the woman’s vulnerabilities, Mr Connolly said she cannot read or write, adding: “She was assessed as having a learning age of four.”
During interviews the woman said she had been concerned about potentially being sent back to poverty in Nigeria.
“She said she was not allowed out, she was always working and looking after the children,” counsel continued.
“One more than one occasion Precious would leave the house and lock the door.”
The alleged victim stated that she believed she would be given freedom after working for five years. Judge Donna McColgan QC was also told the woman thought she was going to marry a cousin of Osarobo Izekor who is currently thought to be living in Sweden.
Precious Izekor, who holds dual British and Sierra Leonean nationality, was arrested last week in Glasgow. Her barrister, Barry Gibson, told the court she has worked for Santander since obtaining a degree in economics from Stirling University.
“All of a sudden her life has been turned upside down,” he said.
“She has been taken from her children, she is pregnant and she has been put in custody on the word of a young girl who was living within a family who were her benefactors.”
Mr Gibson argued that the complainant is making false accusations in an attempt to be able to remain in the United Kingdom. A valid contract confirming her employment status as a domestic worker was lodged with the Home Office, he stressed.
“The allegation that she was enslaved within the family unit, that is totally rejected by my client,” the barrister said.
“This is a girl sponsored by this family to come to the UK, and it’s only when her immigration status is an an issue that she has turned on this family, and turned on them in a vicious way.”
Denying bail, however, Judge McColgan cited the potential risks of flight and interference with witnesses.
She said: “These are very, very serious alleged offences and investigations are ongoing.”