Daughter of a Maoist cult leader 'kept in isolation by him for 30 years could barely walk when she finally escaped'

Daily Mail, UK/November 25, 2015

By Euan McLelland

The daughter of a Maoist cult leader kept in almost total isolation for 30 years could barely walk when she finally made her escape, a court heard today.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, founded his own radical sect dubbed the 'Worker's Institute' in Brixton, south London, in the late 1970s.

He called himself Comrade Bala, and is accused of forcing two of his followers to regularly perform degrading sex acts and subjecting them to vicious beatings.

His own daughter, born to another cult member, was kept captive from her birth in 1983 until she managed to escape the cult in 2013 aged 30, Southwark Crown Court has heard.

She was given so little chance to exercise she could only hobble when she was rescued and could not even cross a road alone.

Comrade Bala's daughter, along with the last two remaining cult members, was rescued by a Leeds-based charity set up to help victims of slavery and human trafficking.

But Gerard Stocks, who founded the charity along with his wife Yvonne, quickly realised she had almost no skills to live in the outside world, the court heard.

Mr Stocks said the young woman ended up living in the family home to help her adjust to the outside world.

He was one of the people waiting for the three woman outside the flat to collect them after weeks of planning.

'There were two women coming out of the flat she was in, she was walking with a very awkward gait and walked very, very slowly,' said Mr Stocks.

'I honestly thought she had been in some kind of accident, she wasn't walking well at all.

'It took months for her to improve and she still walks very slowly now, she's still got an odd hip movement when she walks - I'm not an expert but it might take years for that to go away, if it ever does.

'She could walk only short distances. Nowadays she can walk quite a long way.'

He added that the 400m walk from the Stocks' family home to the local doctor's surgery was too far for the complainant when she first arrived.

Initially she had been placed in a sheltered house with the other two women from the cult, but had asked to move because she felt under pressure from them.

He said: 'When we picked the three people up it was a long drive up to Leeds, I've dealt with lots of people but they were strange because they were almost repeating each other's sentences, or joining in with each other's sentences.

'It was all three of them, some of the topics it was like they had perhaps discussed it before many times they seemed to know the next words.

'[Balakrishnan's daughter] was taken into hospital the morning after the Friday she was picked up, we thought she had diabetes.'

After she was discharged from hospital, the young woman initially lived with the other two escapees, but moved in with the Stocks family because she felt bullied and pressurised by the other two cult members.

'She had no road sense at all, we spent weeks teaching her how to cross a road the way you would a child, then we spent several weeks teaching her how to use a bus - she had no idea how to order a ticket, nothing.

'That progressed to trains, and I'm very confident she could now make her way to London without any problems.'

He continued: 'She had no concept of traffic or the speed of vehicles, she had no idea of money.'

Mr Stocks described one incident when he and his wife had taken her to a shopping centre to buy some bits and pieces and she had told them she had never had a doll.

'We let her buy the doll, say it was £15, and she couldn't understand why there was money coming back - why the lady at the till was giving her £5 back.

'I don't think she had ever had to deal with money. We had to teach her how to purchase things, how to get a receipt, how to get the right change,' he said.

'She hated electricals, she didn't want to touch anything with a plug on it like the iron of the kettle - she had a morbid fear of something she called "E" which turned out was electricity.'

He joked that he and his wife had eventually helped her overcome the problem by buying her an iPhone.

'She got over it [her fear of electricity] little by little, but we got her an iPhone and she could plug that in just fine.

'She claimed to have cooking skills, but she didn't have any cooking skills that we could see.'

The alleged victim didn't have any social skills in a large group, and had no idea what level of contact was appropriate, the court heard.

Mr Stocks said: 'We've quite a large family and we have family gatherings, but she would sit and stare - she does make eye contact but she does seem to have problems socialising.

'She used to grab hold of people and cuddle them and we tried to explain to her that that was not appropriate.

'We had to teach her that when you meet someone you can shake hands with them if you want, but it's not acceptable to go and wrap your arms around them and she got that pretty quickly.'

Balakrishnan's daughter was born to another cult member, Sian Davies, who died in hospital eight months after falling from an upstairs window in one of the many addresses the collective lived in.

Sian Davies had been almost completely cut off from her family since joining the cult in the mid-1970s, but had once provided a phone number so that her mother could call her occasionally.

After making a phone call in 1997 just after the accident, Balakrishnan told them she had gone to do charity work in India, when in reality she was a quadriplegic in a hospital bed.

After her death her cousin Margaret Elery Morgan came to London to identify her body and attend the inquest.

The collective - as they called themselves - lied in the inquest, telling the coroner Ms Davies had died childless.

Even the girl herself was not told who her real mother was until long after her death, and Ms Davies was barred from breastfeeding, cuddling or comforting the child as she grew up.

Jurors were read accounts from neighbours who had interactions with the family at the 15 different addresses they lived in between 1980 and 2013.

One family, Peter and Antoinette McAvoy recalled seeing a 'swarthy faced child with black hair of about ten' but in the two years she lived next door they only ever saw her staring out of a rear window.

If they tried to wave she would duck down out of sight, and they never saw her leave the house.

The garden became completely overgrown, and they never saw a member of the collective leave the address alone.

Other neighbours reported seeing three women leaving the house about once a month, walking in single file towards the shops with the youngest woman in the middle.

At one address, neighbours remembered seeing the younger woman in the garden about once a month, but always with the other two members of the collective.

Balakrishnan's sister-in-law Shobna, who was disabled, often had eight different carers visit her between 1980 and 2013.

One neighbour remembered Balakrishnan's daughter as being very tactile, and constantly complementing her on her hair and her clothes, and once saying 'I wish you were my mother'.

The daughter who was in her 20s by this point, also wrote her a poem saying how she would have liked her to be her parent.

Another carer had a similar experience, and remembered thinking that the young woman probably had learning difficulties.

In police interviews, Balakrishnan insisted his followers were free to leave at any time, saying he believed in 'voluntary activity'.

He claimed he didn't know the father of the girl born in the collective, saying he had always treated her as a daughter and it did not matter to him whether she was his biological daughter or not.

When asked if he had ever had a sexual relationship with Sian Davies, he replied: 'A little bit, not much'.

He denied keeping the little girl locked away, saying 'We used to go to the launderette once a week, and we used to go shopping twice a week, and whenever I went shopping I used to take her along.'

'She had one of the happiest times compared to other kids,' he said, adding 'she loved me so much'.

Balakrishnan said the child had been educated at home because her mother had been to Cheltenham Ladies' College and had been bullied by girls in her class.

He tried to claim she had some friends, saying: 'We used to go to the launderette so she got to know a number of people.'

He was asked if he had ever thought she needed to be prepared to go out to work, but replied there was plenty of work for her to do within the collective and that she had never wanted to go outside.

'She knew it was an extremely dangerous world, there are attacks, stabbings, almost every day you hear about it,' he explained.

The daughter had her inoculations at birth and was registered with a doctor's surgery in Clapham, but did not go to the surgery until after her escape.

Balakrishnan claimed she had been in such good health she did not need ever need medical attention.

The daughter claims she had been pleading to be allowed to see a doctor for five years before she left the collective and was later diagnosed with diabetes.

When asked if he had ever hit her, he replied 'No not really, but sometimes people get so dizzy you just tap them and they come back.'

He denied hitting her or any other members of the collective out of rage.

Balakrishnan, of Edmonton, London, denies one count of cruelty to a child under 16 and one count of false imprisonment in relation to his daughter born to another cult member who is now deceased.

He further denies seven counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape and three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in relation to two adult members of the cult.

The trial continues.

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