London slavery case: Suspects 'former Maoist activists'

Tom Symonds: "This house is now one of 13 addresses being investigated by the police"

Related Stories

A married couple suspected of holding three women as slaves for more than 30 years are former Maoist activists Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda, the BBC understands.

According to national Marxist records they were leading figures at the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre in Acre Lane, Brixton, south London, in the 1970s.

It was raided by police and five people, including the pair, were held.

Mr Balakrishnan, 73, and his 67-year-old wife were arrested on Thursday.

Three women were rescued from their home in Brixton a month earlier.

What is Maoism?

The name comes from the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, who put industry under state ownership, collectivised farming and ruthlessly suppressed opposition.

Maoism within China represented "traditional conventional communism" but with an authoritarian class, according to Dr Xiaobing Wang of Manchester University.

Outside China, it is often used to characterise rebel groups, he says.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Maoism outside China often meant communal living and egalitarianism with an authoritarian structure, Prof James Grayson, of the University of Sheffield says.

The couple have been linked to 13 addresses across London, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed. The force would not confirm or deny their names.

Police carried out house-to-house inquiries in and around Peckford Place, Brixton - where the women were rescued - over the weekend.

Officers said the women had suffered years of "physical and mental abuse".

They lived together as a "collective" after two of the women met the man through a "shared political ideology".

Home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said several sources had suggested a fifth woman - who was elderly and used a wheelchair - had stayed at the house in Brixton, though it was unclear whether she was a permanent resident.

The Metropolitan Police would neither confirm nor deny the presence of another woman at the property during last week's arrest.

'Psychological cage'

Records of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) show Mr Balakrishnan was suspended from the organisation in 1974.

He set up a splinter group in the same year called The Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

It was based at Acre Lane, Brixton. The building was used as a bookshop and political commune.

Local shopkeeper Cliff McKinson said he visited the building on three occasions in the 1970s.

Acre Lane, Brixton A building in Acre Lane, Brixton, was a political commune in the 1970s and is now a restaurant

"They were just sort of gathering inside and outside; I was fascinated, I went there three times," he said.

"There were women who come and go freely, especially in the evenings. I was at work when the police came and raided it."

Professor Dennis Tourish, from the Royal Holloway University of London, said followers of Marxism often committed their lives to their beliefs.

"They develop a number of organisational rituals of which communal living is one," he said.

"The people they are working with and recruiting commit all their resources, including their time and money, and in a sense their souls to supporting the aims and objectives of the group."

Criminal psychologist Dr David Holmes said the details appeared to suggest a "kind of political cult" or "enforced commune" was in effect holding the captives "almost in a psychological cage".

Previous arrests

The three alleged victims, a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian, are in the care of a non-governmental organisation following their rescue last month.

Police said the 30-year-old woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, had a birth certificate but no other official papers.

She is said to have written more than 200 impassioned letters and poems to her neighbour over an eight-year period, the Daily Mail reported.

In one of the letters, she said she felt like a "fly trapped in a spider's web" and described her "unspeakable torment".

Map of Brixton

The case came to light after the Irish woman rang Freedom Charity to say she had been held against her will.

The couple were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and slavery. They have also been arrested for immigration offences.

They have been released on bail until January.

'Complex case'

Police said they were of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s.

Thirty-seven officers from the Met's human trafficking unit are working on the case.

Lambeth Council said it had been working closely with the police in the weeks before the women's rescue.

A spokesperson said: "This is an extremely complex case involving a number of individuals going back decades.

"It is too early at this stage to provide the detail of any contact we may have had with them."

The council said the security, confidentiality and well-being of those involved was paramount.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC London

Weather

London

20 °C 10 °C

BBC Local Live

  1.  
    Two leaks causing water loss 12:17:

    A Thames Water spokeswoman says they were aware of two leaks affecting pipes in south-west London which were not their property, but belonged to the council.

    "The problem is the two leaks are in different council areas and it's a bank holiday. A Thames Water technician is on his way and we are talking to Lambeth and Wandsworth Council to fix the issue."

     
  2.  
    Listed Londoner 11:57: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    Dotun Adebayo is presenting the Robert Elms show today. He will be chatting with photojournalist and filmmaker Grant Fleming, who is our Listed Londoner, about his new exhibition The End of Apartheid.

    And there'll be a live performance from singer Hollie Cook from her new album Twice. She is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook.

     
  3.  
    'Particularly violent assault' 11:44:

    Appealing for information after the attack on a 24-year-old man in Westminster, Det Sgt Alistair Morrison said: "This was a particularly violent assault which occurred on a road off of Haymarket."

    The attackers, who were described by police as black men, about 5ft 10in in height and of athletic build, turned right at the end of Oxendon Street and headed towards Haymarket after the attack at 04:20 on Saturday.

     
  4.  
    Gun salute at Tower of London 11:28:

    TfL River tweets: 1300 - Gun Salute at the Tower of London today. Vessels will not stop at Tower between approx 1250 & 1310.

     
  5.  
    Blackwall Tunnel 11:08:

    The southbound Blackwall Tunnel has been closed since 02:00 because of problems with the extractor fans. There is no estimate for when it will reopen.

    The closure is causing short queues on the A13 at times and is adding to the delays at the Woolwich Ferry which is only running a single boat as it is a bank holiday.

     
  6.  
    No water in the block 10:48:

    Resident Jean-Marc Pont said nobody in the 176 flats in his block in Lambeth has had any water since the pipe on Wandsworth Road burst at 20:00 yesterday.

    Jean-Marc Pont

    "I have an eight-week baby at home and I was told this morning that nothing will happen today and they will probably resort to either a lorry full of water bottles or a big water tank bought to the premises.

    "I have been to Sainsbury to get 17 packs of water to make sure we have enough to sterilise all the baby feeding equipment."

     
  7.  
    Road closed 10:31:

    Merton MPS tweets: We have had to close part of London Road near to Cricket Green. A car has struck a lamp post. We are waiting for LBM to make the post safe.

     
  8.  
    On this day 10:20:

    In 1945, Ivor Novello's Perchance To Dream opened at the London Hippodrome with his now classic song We'll Gather Lilacs.

    Ivor Novello

    The show ran for 1,022 performances.

     
  9.  
    Hundreds left without water 10:03: Jason Rosam Journalist, BBC London

    Hundreds of residents in the SW8 postcode have been without water for the last 12 hours after a water main burst on the Wandsworth Road last night. Most of those affected live in the Lambeth borough.

    Thames Water arrived at the scene at 02:30, but said the burst pipe is Wandsworth Council's responsibility. The council has apologised and said it has contacted the water board to carry out the repairs.

     
  10.  
    Man critical after assault 09:37:

    A 24-year-old man is in a critical condition in hospital after being attacked by two men on Oxendon Street, Westminster, in the early hours of Saturday.

    Police found the man was found with head injuries. He had been on a night out with friends and family when he was punched in the head and kicked, police said.

     
  11.  
    LATEST UPDATES
     
  12.  
    Technical problems affect tunnel 09:15:

    BBC Travel News reports the Blackwall Tunnel is closed southbound from the A12 Blackwall Tunnel Approach junction to the A102 Blackwall Tunnel Approach junction because of technical problems.

     
  13.  
    Teachers facing abuse 09:03: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    On the Vanessa Feltz show we are talking about how teachers are facing abuse from children as young as seven on social networking sites.

    More than a fifth have been the victim of offensive remarks from both pupils and their parents. Are you a teacher at your wits end?

     
  14.  
    Queen's birthday 08:47:

    The Queen celebrates her 88th birthday today and a new portrait by photographer David Bailey has been released to mark the occasion.

    David Bailey's portrait of the Queen

    The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery will fire a 41-gun royal salute from Green Park in central London at 12:00, using six 13 pounder First World War guns drawn by 71 horses.

     
  15.  
    Tube delays 08:31:

    There are minor delays on the Metropolitan Line due to a signal failure at Harrow-on-the-Hill and there are part closures on some other lines.

    • District: No service between Ealing Broadway and Turnham Green
    • Jubilee: No service between Finchley Road and Waterloo
    • Piccadilly: No service between Acton Town and Uxbridge
    • DLR: No service between Stratford and Bow Church
    • London Overground: No service between Surrey Quays and Clapham Junction
     
  16.  
    Bright intervals 08:11:

    Some bright or sunny intervals will develop today, but occasional showers, some heavy, are expected by afternoon.

    Maximum temperature: 17C (63F).

     
  17.  
    08:00: Debabani Majumdar BBC London News

    Good morning. I'll be with you until 18:00 with the latest news, sport, travel and weather for London.

    You can tell me your news by emailing london.locallive@bbc.co.uk or tweeting @BBCLondonNews.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.