'Brainwashing' tapes as she lay dying and the mystery of the Cheltenham Ladies old girl's fatal fall at the Maoist slave sect HQ

Mail, UK/December 1, 2013

By David Jones

The headset of an old-fashioned tape-recorder was clamped to her ears day and night, flooding her mind with strange Oriental mantras.

Beside the hospital bed where she lay, totally paralysed and labouring for breath, two female comrades silently observed her for hour upon hour, appearing more like sentries than visitors and maintaining their vigil even when she slipped into the coma from which she never emerged.

Played out in a drab ward at King’s College Hospital, South London, to which she was confined after breaking her neck in a highly mysterious fall, these were the eerie last months of Sian Davies, said to be the mother of a 30-year-old called Rosie who was among the three women revealed last week to have been ‘rescued’ from the alleged Maoist ‘slave’ sect.

Miss Davies, who died in 1997 after more than 20 years as an allegedly ‘brainwashed’ disciple, is surely the most tragic victim of this case, which grows more curious by the day.

The sect’s involvement, even as Sian Davies lay dying, was described to me by her cousin, Eleri Morgan, who, along with the rest of her family, had been frozen out of her life for many years, but discovered the truth after being asked to identify her body and collect her belongings.

‘When I arrived Sian was still lying in a cheap, winceyette night-dress, and among her few possessions was a cassette-recorder with headphones and a couple of tapes,’ Miss Morgan, 64, a retired teacher, recalled.

‘She had been in hospital for seven months before she died, the nurses said these sect people would play the tapes to her all the time, so I listened to them to see what they were.

‘They were just weird — sort of Eastern chanting and “wooing” noises; and given her condition, Sian would have had no choice but to listen. The nurses told me the sect always had someone sitting with her.’

Yet despite this apparent attention, no one informed the police about the mystery fall until after Miss Davies died, denying them the chance to investigate.

As they now begin their inquiries into this extraordinary story, the 47 officers probing the slavery allegations will need to turn the clock back to the mid-Seventies, when Britain was a political powder-keg and all manner of crackpot revolutionaries were eager to light the fuse.

Nowhere were the social divisions deeper than in London. North of the Thames, in districts such as Kensington and Chelsea, trendy boutiques, discos and restaurants were opening, new services industries were mushrooming, and affluence grew apace.

South of the river, however, in the dilapidated Victorian terraces and musty pubs of Lambeth, it was a very different picture.

Here the traditional working classes were losing faith with the Labour government of Harold Wilson as jobs were lost, council services cut, and the all-powerful unions called endless strikes.

Many of these decaying flats and squats were occupied by foreign students and new immigrant workers, and a plethora of extreme Left-wing groups had also moved into these fertile recruiting grounds aiming to exploit the collective sense of anger and alienation in the area.

Among their number were a young Ken Livingstone and actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, leading lights in the Workers’ Revolutionary Party led by Trotskyist Gerry Healy, later unmasked as a pervert who preyed on gullible female followers.

Set alongside the Maoists, however, whose mission was to replace Britain’s ‘fascist’ government with a regime adhering to the Chinese communism of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, even the youthful ‘Red Ken’ and the Redgraves seemed relatively moderate.

And the arch-proponent of this doctrine, Aravindan Balakrishnan — an Indian who had arrived in Britain in 1963 to study at the London School of Economics, but did not complete his degree — was, by broad consent, the most extreme and egocentric of them all.

Proclaiming to have chosen Brixton as his revolutionary base because it was ‘the worst place in the world’, he and his Tanzanian wife, Chanda, now 67, rented a corner shop as their war bunker shortly after Mao died, in 1976, renaming it, with typical grandiosity, the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

Despite their claims to have mobilised hundreds of people, the couple never had more than a dozen or so devotees — and at first almost all of them were foreign nationals.

Some were sent out to earn money for the cause while others served as ‘professional revolutionaries’, going from house to house to spread the word and agitate on the streets.

In the words of one magazine journalist who ventured inside their dank HQ, they were ‘the most lunatic of the lunatic fringe of Left politics in Britain’.

And according to the writer and New York Labour Party chairman Ian Williams, who attended some of their meetings, the short, bespectacled Balakrishnan was an unlikely guru. ‘He was like a Maoist Maharishi — I wasn’t impressed,’ he told me.

Yet, fatefully, Sian Davies was profoundly impressed by Comrade Bala.

A GP’s daughter from a small Welsh market town, she was raised in a world far removed from the ferment of Brixton; and when her mother, Ceri, told friends she was ‘destined for great things’, the life of a Red Army foot-soldier was hardly what she had in mind.

Aged eight, she was sent to Malvern Preparatory School, then to Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where her academic and sporting gifts shone through. She was a fine horsewoman, played cricket at Lord’s, and earned a place to read law at Aberystwyth University.

Slim and 5ft 9in tall, with thick blonde hair, she was strikingly attractive.

At university she met her first serious boyfriend, Martin Clarke, son of a senior Marks & Spencer executive, and they shared a house. When Sian enrolled for a post-grad course at the LSE, Martin moved with her. Among her contemporaries there was Cherie Blair. Both graduated in 1975.

The London they first embraced was very much ‘north of the river’. Renting a flat off fashionable Kensington High Street, they would shop at Harrods, attend West End plays and discos, and Sian swapped her staid outfits for clothes from boutiques such as Biba.

Everything changed after they attended a lecture on the iniquities of capitalist society by Comrade Bala, and accepted his invitation to learn more about Maoism at one of his Brixton workshops.

‘We used to go out shopping and clubbing,’ recalls her cousin, Miss Morgan. ‘And then suddenly the time between seeing her got longer and longer, her phone number became unavailable, and when I went to the Kensington address she had moved.’

Searching for reasons for this sudden ideological conversion, friends suggest Miss Davies might have been vulnerable to a persuasive male figure because her father, Dr Alun Davies, to whom she was always very close, had taken his own life when she was 17.

Yet she wasn’t the only young woman to abandon her comfortable, middle-class lifestyle and join Comrade Bala, a renegade whose pledge to start ‘a new world order’ in South London was so preposterous that, when a newspaper diarist began poking fun at them, they spawned the idea for the TV sitcom Citizen Smith.

One of the three women ‘rescued’ last week, after apparently working for the Maoist leader for 30 years, was Josephine Herivel, 57, a prize-winning classical musician whose mathematician father was a celebrated wartime code-breaker at Bletchley Park.

After joining the Mao sect she, too, became estranged from her family, and was not even acknowledged with her two sisters in her late father’s obituary.

For Sian Davies there would be no escape — her devotion to the cause was absolute. Occasionally, her old friends would hear unsettling news of her; on the two occasions, for example, when she was jailed after clashing with the ‘fascist’ police.

But in her sporadic letters to her mother, written meticulously with key phrases underlined, yet disturbingly devoid of emotion, she insisted she was ‘doing fine’ and, more puzzlingly, ‘looking after the mothers of the world’.

Meanwhile, every penny in her bank account - at least £10,000, much of which is thought to have been left to her by her father - was being drained by the sect.

With astonishing effrontery, when the cash-flow dried up, members visited her widowed mother in Wales to demand more, according to Marianne Evans, who worked for the Davies family for many years as their housekeeper and also the surgery receptionist for Dr Davies. They were sent back to Brixton empty-handed.

Increasingly fretful, Mrs Davies later tracked down her daughter to one of the 13 different London addresses the sect occupied over the years; but when she knocked at the door, Sian was either forbidden from seeing her, or chose not to.

Whether or not Miss Davies had then given birth to Rosie, who was born in 1983 and spent her entire life in the sect, is not clear

But Marianne Evans told the Mail that Mrs Davies was made aware she had become a grandmother, and was distressed that she wasn’t permitted to meet her only grand-daughter before she died, in 2003.

Who, then, is Rosie’s father? His identity is not revealed on her birth certificate, on which she is named not Rosemary but ‘Prem Maopinduzi’ — Swahili for ‘revolutionary’.

(The document also states, fraudulently, that her mother was born in Manchester rather than Carmarthen, presumably to lay a false trail for anyone searching for her).

Juxtaposing photographs of Rosie, with her luxuriant dark hair and olive complexion, with pictures of Sian and Comrade Bala, one can’t help but wonder whether the sect leader, now 73, was her father.

What’s most worrying are the palpable failures by Lambeth council to intervene in this protracted saga. It now seems clear the social services were alerted at least once to the fact that Rosie had never attended school, but chose not to act.

They are said to have visited the commune and left satisfied that the girl, then in her mid-teens, was being educated adequately at home.

However, Lambeth Tory councillor Clare Whelan, who is calling for a full inquiry into the case, suspects Rosie simply ‘slipped through the net’ at a time when the borough was ‘the last bastion of Marxism’ and services were shambolic.

So what of the mysterious fall from the property in Herne Hill, South London, on Christmas Eve, 1996, that left Sian Davies a quadriplegic and resulted in her death, seven months later?

Can it be true, as sect members told the inquest, that she opened the bathroom window so widely on a chilly winter’s day that she accidentally fell through it, plunging 30ft onto the patio below?

The present owner of the house thinks not, saying this week: ‘I can’t see how anyone could have just fallen out of that window. It’s so low that you have to crouch down to see out of it. It would have been almost impossible.’

Recording an open verdict, the coroner described her death as ’a mystery’.

But her late mother was far from satisfied - members of the group had told her Sian was in India when she was actually in hospital - and hired a private detective to investigate the affair.

He spent months on the case but, unable to gain the co-operation of sect members - the only witnesses - he got nowhere.

The Metropolitan Police now plans to review evidence presented at the inquest, though a spokesman says there is no suggestion as yet that the verdict was incorrect.

But, of course, there is another possibility. It is that Miss Davies jumped from the window and tried to commit suicide.

If so, this might explain her plaintive appearances at the window in the preceding months, when she would hold up handwritten notes for her next-door neighbour; notes that were too small to be read.

Then there was the final call she made to her cousin, Eleri Morgan, after many years of silence, a few months before the fall.

Sensing she might have been ready to break with the sect, Mrs Morgan tried to coax her into a meeting, but never heard from her again.

The next time she saw her lost cousin, she lay lifelessly in hospital, still in that cheap, floral print nightgown.

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