Slavery case: suspects named as former Maoist collective leaders

Suspects in slavery case understood to be Aravindan and Chanda Balakrishnan, former leaders of a Maoist commune in south London

The Telegraph, UK/November 25, 2013

By Martin Evans

Two cult leaders suspected of enslaving three women for more than 30 years at a house in south London targeted vulnerable overseas students who were struggling to adjust to life in Britain, it has been claimed.

Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda, who ran a Maoist collective in the 1970s, recruited mainly women who shared their far left ideology.

But once they joined they fell under the spell of the charismatic leaders, and found it hard to leave, according to experts.

Last week the two former leaders of the extremist cell, a man aged 73 and a woman aged 67, were arrested on suspicion of having held three women against their will for more than 30-years.

The alleged victims, a 69-year-old woman from Malaysia, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old Briton, were released last month after one of them contacted the Freedom Charity to complain of their treatment.

The pair have since been bailed to a date in January and officers from the Met’s human trafficking unit are carefully exploring the background to the allegations.

Professor Steve Rayner, from Oxford University, who wrote extensively about the group said: “They were a tiny, very tight-knit group clearly under the spell of their leader. Their membership was overwhelmingly overseas in origin.

“Most were foreign students who seemed to have difficulty adjusting to life in the UK. They refused to recognise the legitimacy of the state and state institutions and maintained a hostile attitude towards the establishment and towards the rest of the far-left in Britain at that time. Their ideology was profoundly detached from reality.”

The Daily Telegraph has learned that the couple arrested last week were well known to the police having set up a notorious Communist squat in 1974 and have both served prison sentences associated with their political activities.

Based in Brixton, south London, the couple set about recruiting women from other far left groups, encouraging them to engage in “revolutionary work”.

The organisation published political pamphlets calling for the downfall of Western Capitalism and also ran lectures, study groups and held film screenings.

In 1978 police raided their premises, arresting 14 members of the organisation, including the two leaders, who were later jailed after being convicted of assaulting a police officer.

After the headquarters were closed, the organisation is understood to have broken up with the two heads of the group moving into a squat in Brixton with a number of their followers.

The collective were later given social housing by Lambeth Council and lived in at least 13 properties around south London including a large house in the Herne Hill area.

A neighbour who remembered them said they lived at the property for about six years until around 2003.

She said they were very private and would always leave the house in groups.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “I remember three or four of them living there for about five or six years. I remember an Indian man who used to take the women shopping. He always wore a necktie. There was no other man.

“There was also a tall, slim white woman and another little Asian woman. They would never speak. We always saw them coming in and out with shopping but they never spoke.

"One day the police came and told me an older woman living in that house had died falling out of a window at the back. They asked if I had seen anything. I said no and they never got back to me.”

Commander Steve Rodhouse from the Metropolitan Police, who is leading the investigation into allegations of slavery, confirmed that the two older women had first met their alleged captors through a political group.

He said: “We believe that two of the victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology, and that they lived together at an address that you could effectively call a 'collective'.”

He added: “Somehow that collective came to an end and how the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects. How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives.”

The couple have been bailed until a date in January and are not allowed to return to the three bedroom housing association flat, where the alleged abuse took place.

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