Inside the Brixton sect: slavery suspect 'told recruits he was Jesus and ran cult like army'

The London Evening Standard/November 27, 2013

By David Churchill, Justin Davenport and John Dunne

A man who rejected the Maoist cult whose leader is accused of keeping three women as slaves for 30 years today revealed intriguing new details of life inside the hardline sect.

Community worker Dudley Heslop, 59, revealed how as a young man he attended lectures given by Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, at the group’s Brixton centre for more than a year.

The sect leader and his wife Chanda, 67, are accused of holding three women as slaves at 13 different addresses across London.

Speaking to the Standard today, Mr Heslop, now a para-legal worker, told how he attended meetings at Balakrishnan's Mao Zedong Memorial Centre in Brixton in the 1970s.

He revealed how:

Balakrishnan, known as Comrade Bala, tried to convince recruits he was like Jesus Christ.

The collective was disciplined and run on military lines.

The charismatic leader moved into a Battersea home owned by follower Sian Davies - thought to be Rosie’s mother

He convinced her to hand over around £10,000 to pay the lease and costs on the group’s centre in Brixton. She later died after mysteriously falling from a window at a property controlled by the group in Herne Hill.

Members were cut off from their families and the outside world, and expelled for accepting gifts or donations.

Followers were convinced to work unpaid full-time and hand over their wages for the revolutionary cause.

The first images of Balakrishnan have been revealed as details also emerged about the identities of the women he allegedly kept in capitivity.

Josephine Herivel, 57, an Irishwoman who first rang a charity to say she was being held against her will, is the daughter of renowned Bletchley Park codebreaker John Herivel.

The other two victims are 69-year-old Malaysian woman, Aishah Wahab, who was a high flying student who came to Britain to study in 1968, and British woman Rosie Davies for 30 years.

Mr Heslop revealed how he attended lectures at the centre for more than a year when he was 22 before rejecting the doctrine and becoming a community worker.

He said Balakrishnan had a brilliant mind and was an amazing speaker, adding: “He was handsome and slim and dressed neatly. He always wore a pressed shirt. “

He said the leader would claim "I am Christ follow me".

“He was approachable and charismatic. His flaw was that he was 100 per cent revolutionary. If people said he was brainwashing others he said he was cleaning their brains.

"His followers were committed to becoming revolutionaries. He 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.

"I was once invited into Bala's room. There was a big mattress on the floor it was very spartan. He lived very simply and still does I imagine. “

Mr Heslop said: "He would take the wages of others for the collective, he was in control. They would run errands and things like that."

He said the group lived at addresses in Golders Green, Peckham and Battersea before moving to the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre in Brixton.

His message was that China would invade and liberate “fascist” Britain and described himself as a full-time “professional revolutionary.”

Mr Heslop said: “He wasn’t holding these women by force, he just kind of got them to believe he was like Jesus Christ.”

He likened likened the loyalty of Balakrishnan’s followers to the extremists who flew into the Twin Towers.

He said: “A lot of the collective, some from overseas, were often people trying to better themselves and get a degree, but somehow were enticed away from their studies to be part of it.

“Their message was that China was going to liberate the imperialist heartlands. This was what baffled people.

“It was very disciplined, you couldn’t just do what you wanted. You had to do what the collective said. It was run on military lines. He was potent and could more or less do whatever he wanted.”

Mr Heslop told how the centre was filled with books on Lenin, Stalin, Marx and Mao, was painted bright red and yellow inside and had banners saying “Uphold the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

The three-storey centre also had a living quarters and bookshop and held lectures in its hall. A big picture of Mao was hung outside facing into the street.

A handful of followers would work full-time while wages were pooled for the 13 hardcore members. They often got arrested when attending opposing sects’ meetings to disrupt them.

Funds raised by the group would also go towards its weekly Workers’ Bulletin news-sheet, distributed around Brixton.

Heslop said he realised the cult’s teachings were not true and suspects the women “rescued” from Balakrishnan’s Brixton home last week have done the same.

Mr Heslop said: “I imagine these women over a period of time have realised they’re not getting anywhere and have become disillusioned. There has been brainwashing.”

He added: “Bala always came across as approachable and friendly. He would always stop you in the street and chat. ”

The centre shut in 1978 when Balakrishnan, who it is thought arrived from Malaysia in the 1960s before getting a British degree in Economics, after it was raided by police and the the guru refused to pay rent.

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