London slavery case: Maoist sect leader Comrade Bala claimed he was 'Jesus Christ'

Former activist claims charismatic leader persuaded female followers  to put him before their own families

Crime Correspondent

The head of the Maoist sect accused of keeping three female slaves tried to convince his followers he was like Jesus Christ and persuaded them  to hand over thousands of pounds for the revolutionary cause, a former activist claimed on Wednesday.

As police began the sensitive task of interviewing the three victims more than a month after they were freed from the south London commune, further details emerged of the strict life inside the collective headed by a charismatic leader known as Comrade Bala.

Dudley Heslop, a community worker, said that Aravindan Balakrishnan persuaded a former follower to hand over £10,000 to pay for the running of the Maoist group’s headquarters in Brixton, south London. The follower, Sian Davies, died in 1997 after she fell in mysterious circumstances from a window of a house where the group stayed.

Mr Balakrishnan was a well-known figure on the fringes of extreme left-wing activity in the early 1970s and ran his group, the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with a steely discipline.

 

A still from a 1997 ITV documentary shows Aravindan Balakrishnan (right) arriving at an inquest (ITV News) A still from a 1997 ITV documentary shows Aravindan Balakrishnan (right) arriving at an inquest (ITV News)
 

Mr Heslop, 59, who said he attended lectures at the centre for more than a year some four decades ago, said that Mr Balakrishnan would say “‘I am the Christ, follow me’ and people would. He was never violent, he was too self-controlled.”

“But women abandoned their careers and their futures for him. They would have to put him and the collective before their families,” he told the London Evening Standard. Mr Heslop’s account of activities at the centre chimed with the accounts of other activists, including one who described Mr Balakrishnan as a pope-like figure.

Police said that “brainwashing” would be the simplest term to describe how the women indicated they had been held for more than three decades at a series of addresses in London. Commander Steve Rodhouse of the Metropolitan Police said details remained scant, as they had agreed not to interview them until Wednesday.

The women are a 30-year-old Briton named in reports as Rosie Davies, a 57-year-old Irishwoman believed to be Josephine Herivel, and a 69-year-old Malaysian, confirmed by that country’s police to be Siti Aishah Wahab. They were being interviewed at an undisclosed location after spending a month in the care of specialist trauma experts.

The 69-year-old woman was wanted by Malaysian police in the 1970s for participating in communist activities, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar was reported as saying.

“As the United Kingdom practised freedom of expression, Siti Aishah mingled  with student activists there,” he told The Malaysian Insider. Her sister arrived in Britain on Wednesday in an attempt to speak with the one-time high-flying student to whom she has apparently not spoken for decades.

Scotland Yard said the three women had all agreed to speak to police, despite one being caught on camera railing against the “fascist state” during a doorstep encounter with a television crew following the death of Sian Davies.

 

ITV News believes this is Josephine, one of the women freed from a commune after living there for three decades (ITV News) ITV News believes this is Josephine, one of the women freed from a commune after living there for three decades (ITV News)
 

Ms Herivel was identified as the Belfast-born daughter of the mathematician John Herivel, who was recruited from Cambridge University to help in the breaking of German military code at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

Mr Balakrishnan and his wife were held on suspicion of crimes including assault and slavery, but doubts have been raised over the prospect of future prosecutions.

The law introduced against domestic servitude was only enacted three years ago. Police said they had so far identified 50 witnesses whom they would speak to during the inquiry.

Mr Rodehouse said: “The crucial issue for us is that, on the basis of the information that we’ve had indirectly from victims, clearly criminal offences have been committed. What we need to do now is to understand that in much more detail.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?