A couple accused of holding a woman captive as a slave for eight years have been found guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
A jury of 12 delivered its verdict in Melbourne on Friday after deliberating for just over a day.
They had sat through the Supreme Court of Victoria trial for 10 long weeks, finding the pair guilty of all charges.
It was still summer when the husband-and-wife, accused of keeping an elderly slave, first faced the jury on February 10.
The husband and wife, whose home she was found at, are guilty of intentionally possessing the woman as a slave between July 2007 and July 2015
The couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons, now face 25 years in jail.
The female slaver, who moments before the jury entered the Supreme Court of Victoria was all smiles, burst into tears upon hearing the guilty verdicts.
She held her head in her hands and slumped her head into her husband’s shoulders as he too was found guilty.
The woman had been a beacon of arrogance throughout the epic trial, often smiling while her elderly victim gave harrowing evidence.
Despite the guilty verdict, the couple were released back into the community on bail and their identities remain suppressed.
All that could change on Friday afternoon when Justice John Champion reviews their liberty and the suppression order.
The jury had endured months of evidence, which included shocking allegations of abuse by the couple against their supposed elderly ‘slave’.
The couple had been accused of committing ‘crimes against humanity’ by keeping the woman captive and working her near to death.
The jury heard allegations their slave had ‘hot curries’ poured over her head as punishment and lived off just an hour a sleep for years at a time.
The elderly woman was found by paramedics in 2015 in a pool of her own urine and weighing just 40kg.
The husband and wife had pleaded not guilty to intentionally keeping the woman as a slave between July 2007 and July 2015.
The woman was discovered after she collapsed inside the couple’s home and they called her an ambulance.
Traumatised and with serious medical conditions, she spent more than two months in hospital recovering – and for much of that time nobody knew her real identity.
Police believed the slaver (pictured) had held her captive like ‘Harry Potter’
A woman found guilty of being a slave driver would slash her servant with a knife if she was not satisfied with her work, a jury heard
In closing the Crown case, prosecutor Richard Maidment QC said the couple’s payments to the woman amounted to just $3.39 a day in exchange for childcare, washing, cleaning and preparing meals.
He told the court the pair had fudged their elderly captive’s visa documents to allow her to stay in Australia illegally.
The woman had hoped to earn enough money in Australia to help support her family in India, the jury was told.
‘By 6 August 2007 she had become an unlawful non citizen with the full knowledge and connivance of (the couple),’ Mr Maidment said.
Police believed they were dealing with a real-life Harry Potter when they rescued the woman, the jury heard.
Mr Maidment told the jury there was no need to ponder the motive why the couple would risk their reputations and liberty to keep the woman illegally for so long.
‘The Crown says that is crystal clear. It was crystal clear that they wanted essentially to import a true, tried and tested child carer and domestic servant, knowing that they could pay her next to nothing so that they could continue to live and maintain a five-bedroom home, that they could maintain their lifestyle, that (the female accused) could contemplate a part-time job, three days a week, and also to afford family trips overseas pretty much every year and interstate also on a regular basis,’ he said.
A man found guilty of being a slaver enters the Supreme Court of Victoria. He had been accused of sitting back and allowing his wife to torment their elderly slave
Mr Maidment said the couple made sure they had treated their slave well in front of the children she had been enslaved to raise.
‘The children were very fond of her and the notion that they would always be unkind to her or that they wouldn’t essentially treat her as part of the household, is ridiculous,’ he said.
‘Clearly, they were going to be concerned about her relationship with the children. Her willingness to work hard. It was important for them to treat her, in many respects, as a member of the household.’
But Mr Maidment said it didn’t alter the level of control that they had for her.
‘Or the deep down, disrespect they had for her situation, or their willingness to exploit her in terms of paying her so far below the appropriate remuneration as to amount to an indicator of slavery,’ he said.
The jury heard the woman had been effectively stranded in her captive home, unable to even use a bus or call for help from her family back in India.
‘Her world, other than that which the (couple) exposed them to by actually taking her to places like Sydney, like Phillip Island, like Cape Woolamai … was the immediate area of the house, Gillian Road Park and that’s about it. So that was her world and the backyard,’ Mr Maidment said.
‘They effectively controlled every aspect of her life, where she went, who she met, controlled her work and her leisure to the extent that she had any and in every practical sense.’
The female slaver, who has been painted for weeks as the brains behind the atrocity, maintained the woman was a rotten liar.
The woman twice came to Melbourne from her home in Tamil Nadu, in southern India, to care for the couple’s three children (pictured), then disappeared for eight years, the court heard
The female slaver had been accused of throwing things when unhappy with her slave
Last week, barrister Dr Gideon Boas – for the female accused – told the jury his client’s accuser was ‘not a witness of truth’.
‘I do suggest to you that it is only in an alternate universe that the evidence that she gave that she was being woken up by (the accused) every night by having lights switched on, oil poured on her head every night at 4am,’ Dr Boas told the jury.
Speaking to a federal agent, the alleged victim outlined the allegations in six recorded interviews.
‘She’ll be drinking hot coffee and then she will just, you know, pour it on my face … and then she will be grab the gravy and pour it on my head,’ the woman said.
‘She will say ‘curries not nice’ and then she will just throw it on me.’
Dr Boas told the jury the federal agents who interviewed his client had believed the alleged victim had been held like the fictional wizard, whom was famously imprisoned under the stairs of his captors in the J.K. Rowling hit books and movies.
‘So, no doubt the police had in their minds at this stage they were dealing with somebody like Harry Potter being, you know, held under the stairs or something, right?’ he told the jury.
Dr Boas dismissed the woman’s claims the alleged slave had been kept confined within the family home for years and insisted she had instead been treated like a beloved member of the family.
‘You recall this was a Tamil tradition of feeding somebody cake and she acknowledged that was an expression of love and affection,’ he told the jury.
‘Well, there’s a photo on p.34, depicts (his client) doing that for (the woman on her) birthday. Love and affection, Tamil tradition. Well, the narrative that she came to give about (his client), as we know, is very different. That was then, this is now.’
The female slaver leaves court in 2017. She faces years behind bars over the ‘crime against humanity’
The jury had heard the woman say under cross examination by Dr Boas that her female captor had bashed her so hard that she had broken her skull.
‘(She) kicked, broke my skull’. That was the first time she said that,’ Dr Boas said.
‘Of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever that (she) had a broken skull.’
When the trial opened in February, Dr Boas made it clear the alleged slave had cooked-up the story to avoid being deported back to India after overstaying her temporary visa.
Dr Boas told the jury his client actually considered the woman as family and referred to her affectionately as ‘grandmother’.
He claimed the only crime his client had committed was harbouring the woman after her one-month travel visa had expired.
It was fear of prosecution over the visa violation that not only caused the woman to lie to authorities, but her to lie about her captivity, the court heard.
The jury disagreed.