Maoist cult chief Aravindan Balakrishnan accused of keeping women slaves is revealed

Aravindan Balakrishnan was caught on camera before an inquest into the death of one of his followers who mysteriously fell from the bathroom window

Crime Correspondent

The first images of the Maoist ideologue accused of keeping three women slaves for 30 years emerged last night from a 15-year-old television documentary that revealed a glimpse of what life was like within the left-wing commune.

Aravindan Balakrishnan – known as Comrade Bala – was caught on camera attending an inquest into the death of one of his followers who mysteriously fell from a bathroom window of the house in Herne Hill, south London, where the group was living in 1997. Mr Balakrishnan is shown being followed by a woman believed to be Josephine Herival, a 57-year-old Irish woman who was rescued last month with two other women who had been at the commune for three decades. They are alleged to have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of Mr Balakrishnan, 73, and his wife Chanda, 67, who were arrested in Brixton last week. A former neighbour of the commune said last night that in the 1980s and 1990s the women often held notes up to the window, but that they were too faint to read.

At the 1997 inquest, a coroner criticised the collective over the death of Sian Davies, 44, and expressed doubts that she would have opened a window on a cold Christmas Eve night and fallen to the street below. She died from her injuries after spending seven months in hospital.

Miss Davies, originally from Aberaeron, west Wales, was  a member of the collective for 24 years after arriving in London to study at university. Her family say that members of the commune falsely claimed to be her next of kin and withheld news of her death from them.

Miss Davies’ cousin, Eleri Morgan, said members of the group told the family she was in India and stopped her being moved to the specialist spinal hospital, Stoke Mandeville.

After the inquest, members of the commune reacted angrily when a television crew asked to speak to Mr Balakrishnan, the charismatic head of the group. “You are part of the fascist state,” said Ms Herival. “We don’t want to talk to you.”

She then retreated into the house with two older companions, one of whom is thought to be a 69-year-old Malaysian woman who was also released last month, footage released by ITV News showed.

Ms Morgan, a retired teacher from Eltham, south-east London, who identified her cousin’s body, said Sian visited her family only once while she was in the commune, and was accompanied at all times by two other group members. She said Ms Herival called her and asked to meet to talk about Sian after the inquest was over.

Officers stand outside flats in Brixton where police are conducting house-to-house inquires (PA) Officers stand outside flats in Brixton where police are conducting house-to-house inquires (PA)
“I told her in no uncertain terms that I didn’t know how she could live with herself,” she told The Independent. “I told her never to use this number again or I would call the police. I never heard from her again.”

New details about the lives of those inside the commune emerged yesterday as police confirmed that they had yet to interview Josephine or the other two captives – one of whom was named in reports as Rosie Davies, a 30-year-old Briton who spent her whole life with the group.

It was unclear whether Sian Davies was her mother, and Ms Morgan said she had not been asked to take a DNA test to confirm the victim’s identity. Detectives have said they have the woman’s birth certificate.

The Malaysian woman is reportedly called Aishah, and is thought to have moved to Britain in 1968 with her fiancé before falling under the influence of Mr Balakrishnan.

Scotland Yard said the facts would not be established quickly, given that what happened in the house took place over three decades.

Mr Balakrishnan, from Singapore, and his Tanzanian Marxist wife, who were arrested on suspicion of assault, false imprisonment and immigration offences, are on bail until January.

Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity, which helped to secure the women’s release, said they had been left alone to recover. Scotland Yard said part of the agreement when they were removed from the property in Brixton on 25 October was that officers would not attempt to interview them immediately.

“Of primary concern to us is their safety and wellbeing,” said Ms Prem. “The more information there is that comes into the public domain, the more it will hamper their recovery.”

Mr Balakrishnan founded his group – the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought – in 1974 after he was expelled from the national committee of another Communist group.

In 1978, police raided the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre in Brixton, arresting 14 members of the organisation, including Mr Balakrishnan and his wife, on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

House-to-house inquiries have been carried out in Peckford Place in Brixton, where the three women were found, one of 13 properties in London linked to the commune over the years.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam