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Maoist cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan guilty of sex assaults

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Media captionThe background to the Aravindan Balakrishnan case

A Maoist cult leader who used violence, fear and sexual degradation to control women he held captive has been found guilty of a string of sex assaults.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, raped two followers and falsely imprisoned and mistreated his daughter for more than 30 years in a commune in south London.

He told his followers he had God-like powers, Southwark Crown Court heard.

He warned them a supernatural force called Jackie would cause natural disasters if he was ever disobeyed.

Cult victims 'too frightened to leave'

Balakrishnan, of Enfield, north London, was convicted of six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape and two counts of actual bodily harm. He was also found guilty of cruelty to a child under 16.

Southwark Crown Court heard he carried out a "brutal" campaign of violence.

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption Balakrishnan's daughter was born into the commune and said she 'felt like a caged bird with clipped wings'

Following the verdict, Judge Deborah Taylor told Balakrishnan he faced a "substantial custodial sentence".

Balakrishnan's daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said she was "overwhelmed with relief".

She added: "I believe justice has definitely been done.

"I am very happy with the result and, at the end of the day, he is still my dad."

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Media captionDet Supt Caroline Barker: "The victims were so conditioned that they truly believed he was all-powerful and all-seeing. Tragically one of them was born into his control"

Det Sgt Paul Wiggett said the cult leader's daughter was scared of her father and that she "genuinely believed the day she left the house she was going to explode - that her life would come to an end".

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The woman was born to Balakrishnan follower Sian Davies, who was known as Comrade Sian, but the then 13-year-old was unaware she was her mother.

Sian Davies suffered fatal injuries when she fell from a window at the cult's home on Christmas Eve in 1996.

Balakrishnan's daughter told the court she was beaten and banned from singing nursery rhymes, going to school or making friends.

Describing herself as a "caged bird", the woman escaped in 2013 at the age of 30 with the help of a charity.

Speaking about her escape she told the court: "If I hadn't [died] from diabetes I would have committed suicide, because I just couldn't bear feeling like that any more.

"I just had enough. I didn't want to live like an animal any more."

Timeline of events

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Image caption Three women escaped from a property in Peckford Place, Brixton, where the collective was living
  • 1963 Aravindan Balakrishnan leaves Singapore to study at the London School of Economics, where he becomes involved in left-wing politics
  • 1970 Balakrishnan sets up his own Maoist commune called the Workers Institute in Brixton, south London, where he subjects two of his followers to sex attacks
  • 1983 One of those followers, Sian Davies, gives birth to Balakrishnan's daughter, whom he imprisons in the commune
  • 1996 On Christmas Eve Sian Davies falls from the second floor window of the house in Brixton where the collective is based. She dies of her injuries several months later
  • 2005 In May Balakrishnan's daughter runs away from the commune for the first time but is returned to her father by police
  • 2008 His daughter begins a sexual relationship with a neighbour. Balakrishnan finds out and bans all contact with her lover
  • 23 October 2013 Balakrishnan's daughter, now aged about 30, is severely ill with diabetes and manages to escape from the commune with the help of a charity. Police later charge Balakrishnan with false imprisonment, child cruelty and a number of sex offences
  • 4 December 2015 Balakrishnan, 75, is found guilty of a string of sex assaults, child cruelty and false imprisonment

Speaking about life inside the commune, the imprisoned woman said: "I felt like a caged bird with clipped wings. Like a fly in a spider's web."

The court heard she found courage to fight back from the stories of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings - the only books she was allowed to read because Balakrishnan identified with the characters.

In 2005, then in her 20s, she made an escape and went to a police station, but the court heard she was encouraged to return home.

Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption An undated photo of Aravindan Balakrishnan with members of the cult, including his daughter

Balakrishnan came to the UK from Singapore in 1963 and enrolled at the London School of Economics.

By the 1970s he was heading a Maoist group known as the Workers Institute, based in Acre Lane, Brixton, and had gained several followers.

But over the years this group dwindled to six women and was transformed into a "cult of Bala", where his followers were only allowed to read left-wing texts and were sexually assaulted and beaten.

Giving evidence, Balakrishnan denied sex assault allegations and insisted two victims in the commune had "pushed" him to have sex and competed for his attentions, even with the mother of his daughter.

He said his views were grounded in the teachings of the Chinese revolutionary leader Chairman Mao which "meant almost everything to him".

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Media captionBalakrishnan's daughter told the BBC's Tom Symonds: "He wanted the whole world to be like the collective where he is in charge and everybody is his slave"

After the verdict one of the defendant's former followers, Belfast-born Josephine Herivel shouted: "You are sending an innocent man to prison. Shame on you."

Praising the victims, the chief crown prosecutor for London, Baljit Ubhey, said: "Balakrishnan has robbed these women including his own daughter of a huge part of their lives."

Yvonne Hall and Gerard Stocks, founders of Palm Cove Society which supported the three victims, said: "This is the end of the beginning and now starts the rest of the incredible journey for each of the women."

Balakrishnan, who was originally arrested in November 2013, was cleared of one count of actual bodily harm and one count of indecent assault.

He is due to be sentenced on 29 January.

Inquest

A new inquest into the death of Sian Davies, 44, could be ordered following Balakrishnan's conviction, the Guardian has reported. A coroner had previously returned an open verdict.

A spokesman for the south London coroner, Dr Andrew Harris, said he would now "consider whether there is fresh evidence which should be brought to the High Court to decide whether to quash the former inquisition and whether to order a new inquest".

Balakrishnan's trial heard Ms Davies was acting "oddly" and the night before the fall her daughter heard shouts and saw her lying bound and gagged on the floor.

In 2004 another woman, Oh Kareng, died after hitting her head on a kitchen cabinet. She was found to have died from natural causes after suffering massive internal bleeding.

Det Ch Supt Tom Manson said: "Following the investigation in relation to the property where this unfolded, our review team from the Homicide Command Unit reviewed both the deaths and there was no evidence to suggest that the deaths of Sian Davies or Oh Kareng were homicides."

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