British woman pleads not guilty to keeping 3 children as slaves in US home

Date: 2009-09-03

A British woman has pleaded not guilty to keeping three children as slaves in her US home.

Mercedes Farquharson, 63, was arrested in Bulgaria in July, having allegedly been on the run for three years after being indicted over claims that she made the young women work up to 20 hours a day in harsh conditions.

At a federal court in North Carolina, Farquharson was ordered to remain behind bars until her trial after entering an initial plea of not guilty, a clerk of the court said.

Prosecutors say she kept the girls in isolation at her North Carolina address and would not let them go to school or have friends. The young women were forced to perform physical labour in harsh conditions, it is alleged.

One of the girls is Farquharson's adopted daughter. The other two were taken from Southall, west London, in the 1990s while their real mother was having problems with a difficult marriage.

It is alleged that that from ages as young as seven, they were put to work, sometimes being forced to labour up to 20 hours a day or face being beaten.

They were also made to clear up after dozens of animals including chickens, dogs and sheep, it is alleged.

Authorities rescued the girls in late 2005, at the ages of 15, 18 and 22. It followed complaints from neighbours of suspicious activity at the property in Monroe, North Carolina.

In 2006, Farquharson was charged with two counts of felony child abuse and three felony counts of involuntary servitude. But by this time she had disappeared, having left her home a day after investigators had taken her 15-year-old adopted daughter away.

Investigators initially thought she had fled to Spain. But she was located in Bulgaria earlier this year and extradited to the US to face charges.


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