Saturday 24 February 2018

Cult leader who kept Irish woman and two others as 'slaves' for 30 years found guilty of false imprisonment and rape

Aravindan Balakrishnan, who imprisoned his daughter in a commune during a 'brutal' campaign of 'violence', convicted of string of sexual offences

Police stand guard in front of the property in Lambeth where Josephine Herivel (59) is alleged to have been held against her will for 30 years
Police stand guard in front of the property in Lambeth where Josephine Herivel (59) is alleged to have been held against her will for 30 years

Kate Ferguson

A Maoist cult leader faces the prospect of dying in jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting two women and imprisoning his own daughter in the commune for 30 years.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, known as Comrade Bala, carried out a "brutal" campaign of violence and "sexual degradation" against the women over several decades.

He brainwashed his followers into thinking he had God-like powers, and invented a supernatural force known as "Jackie" who, he said, could trigger natural disasters if his will was flouted.

After fathering a daughter with one of his acolytes, he kept her a prisoner in their London home for three decades.

Beaten, banned from singing nursery rhymes, going to school or making friends, his daughter described herself as a "shadow woman" who was kept like a "caged bird".

His daughter, who cannot be identified for legal reasons but is being named Fran, today said she was "overwhelmed with relief" after his conviction for imprisoning her, adding: "I believe justice has definitely been done. I am very happy with the result and at the end of the day he is still my dad."

Maoist Aravindan Balakrishnan arrives with an unidentified woman at Southwark Crown Court, London, where he denies seven counts of indecent assault and four counts of rape against two women during the 1970s and 1980s
Maoist Aravindan Balakrishnan arrives with an unidentified woman at Southwark Crown Court, London, where he denies seven counts of indecent assault and four counts of rape against two women during the 1970s and 1980s

She fled in 2013 with the help of a charity. She was 30-years old.

She had escaped eight years earlier in 2005, but was sent home by police because it was a bank holiday, the trial at London's Southwark Crown Court heard.

Aravindan Balakrishnan
Aravindan Balakrishnan

Describing life inside the commune, she said: "I felt like a caged bird with clipped wings. Like a fly in a spider's web. Just really helpless and powerless."

Balakrishnan, of Enfield, north London, was found guilty of six counts of indecent assault and four counts of rape.

He was also convicted of two counts of ABH, cruelty to a child under 16, and false imprisonment. He was cleared of one count of ABH and one count of indecent assault.

Grey-haired Balakrishnan looked ahead stone faced as he listened through a hearing loop as the guilty verdicts were read out.

But Irish woman Josephine Herivel, one of his former followers, shouted across the courtroom floor: "You are sending an innocent man to prison. Shame on you."

Judge Deborah Taylor said Balakrishnan faces a "substantial custodial sentence".

The pensioner denied the abuse, and insisted the women vied for his affection and he treated his daughter with compassion.

But the court heard he used his charisma and radical politics to prey on women.

The left-winger came to Britain from Singapore in 1963 and enrolled at the London School of Economics - well known during the 1960s for its radical student movement.

By the 1970s he was at the helm of a communist group known as the Workers Institute and based in Acre Lane in Brixton, south London.

He gained a number of followers, but as time went by his influence "waned" and the group dwindled to just six women.

Described in court as a "Jekyll and Hyde character", Balakrishnan turned his Communist commune into a "cult of Bala" where paranoia and fear became the order of the day.

His followers were only allowed to read left-wing texts, spied on each other, and were sexually assaulted and beaten by Balakrishnan.

He convinced them he could control people's minds and would "scrub them clean of the bourgeois culture and lifestyle".

One of the women, Sian Davies - who was the mother of his daughter - suffered fatal injuries when she fell from a window at the cult's home on Christmas Eve in 1996.

The aftermath of the horrifying incident was witnessed by the 13 year-old girl, who was unaware at the time that "Comrade Sian" was her mother.

Giving harrowing evidence at the trial, his daughter told how she was bullied and beaten over 30 years for minor transgressions such as singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

She found comfort and courage in the stories of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings - the only books she was allowed to read.

Police said Balakrishnan's victims endured years of "torment and torture".

Detective Sergeant Paul Wiggett, the investigating officer, said it was a "completely unique" case and he said Comrade Bala's daughter was so terrorised by her father she "genuinely believed the day she left the house she was going to explode - that her life would come to an end".

Balakrishnan was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 29 January 29.


Meanwhile, the story of Josephine Herivel life's journey from prodigious child pianist to the 'slave' bound to a political cult is now central to what police have said is the slow process of understanding how they lived over the past 30 years.

The Belfast Telegraph ploughed through its archives to trace her childhood back to Malone Avenue on the south of the city.

Ms Herivel was the youngest of three daughters of John Herivel, the mathematician who helped to crack the Nazi Enigma code as part of the team at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

By the 1950s, her father was back in Belfast, lecturing in Queen's University. Josephine was born in the city, the youngest of three children and named after her grandmother.

Her family lived in the same large house that her grandparents had occupied.

She was clearly a talented child. She went to Belfast's Methodist college from 1968 and a short time afterwards won the under-16 violin category at the Belfast Music Festival.

The Belfast Telegraph found an old newspaper write-up on her in March of that year: "Fourteen-year-old schoolgirl violinist Josie Herivel can consider herself a professional. At yesterday's Belfast Music Festival, she was awarded the maximum 100 marks for her performance in the under-16 violin solo class."

Her performance was described as "quite amazing" by the judge, who said: "This young lady gave a completely professional performance. She could play anywhere."

In 1978, with the Troubles raging, John Herivel and his wife retired to Oxford, where he became a Fellow and wrote several books on code-cracking. That year, Josie, who was by then in her early 20s, had fallen in with a Maoist sect headed by a left-wing extremist, Aravindan Balakrishnan.

The Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought was based in Brixton and included a rag tag of followers, including Aishah Wahab, a Malaysian woman who had come to London in 1968 with her family to start a new life.

Josephine appeared in court in 1978 after police raided the collective's base in a Brixton bookshop, where she called the judge a fascist. The collective fell apart but Josephine, Aishah Wahab and a third woman, Sian Davies, stayed with the cultish leader, Balakrishnan and his partner, Chanda.

Like Josephine, Sian Davies came from a well-to-do background. She went to Cheltenham Ladies College and studied at the London School of Economics before she joined the Maoist commune.

Like Josephine, she had lost all contact with her family. In 1996, she fell to her death from a second floor window of the collective's house in south London. At an inquest in 1997, the coroner said he found it hard to understand how she had fallen out of the window in the middle of winter. The Balakrishnans were also criticised for never informing her family of the accident.

Josephine Herivel accompanied the Balakrishnans to the coroner's court and defended them afterwards. When journalists with ITV approached her to ask about the accident, Josephine angrily accused them of being part of the "fascist state".

Sian Davies is now believed to be the mother of 'Fran', who, police say, was then reared as a slave by Balakrishnan and his wife. But her family were never told that she had had a child.

After the inquest into Sian's death, one of her relatives revealed last week that Josephine Herivel had telephoned her relatives and asked to meet them. But her relatives refused.

The collective moved around more than a dozen flats and houses, ending up in a neat newly built council block in Peckford Place in Brixton. Neighbours in the south London council estate thought them a household of oddballs. One neighbour noticed how a man who sometimes would peer out through curtains, books piled on the ledge. Another said that the women dressed in crazy old-fashioned clothes.

The one that stuck out was Rose, the youngest, who wrote dozens of notes and love letters to a neighbour who lived in the flat upstairs, and writing that the people holding her were not her parents and were "evil". Most neighbours couldn't believe that these three women were subjected to such extreme emotional and psychological abuse that they felt unable to walk out on their lives of domestic servitude.

In recent months, Josephine Herivel had turned from loyal defender of the collective to having deep doubts about it.

Her whispered telephone call to a London charity led to their eventual rescue.

She and the younger woman walked out of their own free will, while Aishah Wahab had to be brought out by police. It was a sign of their brainwashing, that they did not want the police to take any immediate action against their captors.

Press Association

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