Wales

From privileged mid Wales background to cult member

Aravindan Balakrishnan Image copyright PA
Image caption Aravindan Balakrishnan was sentenced on Friday

Sian Davies appeared to have it all. Beauty, brains, confidence and wealth.

So who was the young woman from mid Wales who turned her back on it all to join a secretive cult in the 1970s where she would spend the rest of her life isolated from her friends, her family and society?

The leader of that Maoist cult, 74-year-old Aravindan Balakrishnan, was jailed for 23 years at Southwark Crown Court for a string of sex assaults, on Friday.

He was found guilty of rape, child cruelty and false imprisonment following a trial last December.

Sian Davies came from a privileged background. A GP's daughter from Tregaron, Ceredigion, she always had the best of everything.

"Sian and I would play together after school - I would go to her house and she would come to mine," said Elizabeth Jones, who started school the same day as her.

Image copyright Mirror
Image caption Sian Davies met Balakrishnan in London in the mid 1970s
Image caption Elizabeth Jones was a school friend of Sian Davies

"I remember once when we were shearing sheep at our farm she came to play and brought her mother's make up basket and high heels with her.

"Well, I'd never seen such things. Being a farmer's wife, my mum never had anything like that. Sian also had the most luxurious toys and I used to love going to her house, and she was always ready to share.

"But she left to go to private school when I was seven. I remember hugging Sian on her last day but nothing after that."

After boarding at Malvern in Worcestershire, Sian went to Cheltenham Ladies College.

But when she was 16, her father Alun Davies killed himself.

Image caption Margaret Evans' family were patients of Sian Davies's GP father

"He was a highly respected doctor, always putting his patients first," said Margaret Evans from Tregaron, whose family were patients of his.

"He was available all day everyday, I remember him coming to see our daughter every two hours on Christmas Day because she had a grumbling appendix.

"He worried about his patients and was maybe too sensitive. It was a huge shock and loss to the community when he died."

The effect on his only daughter Sian, who was away at the time, was immeasurable says her best friend, Sally Unwin.

"It was really after that that our friendship became very intense," she says.

"She did become more withdrawn. She didn't talk about it which is a little sign I think that she internalised it.

"She didn't share her feelings, not really, and that's why I think she was a bit vulnerable because she kept things inside her.

"Looking back I think it had a profound effect on her. After school she went to Aberystwyth University and I went to Manchester.

"We weren't as close then and my recollection is that she was slightly nationalistic at that time. There was an edge to her that there wasn't before."

Barry Morgan, who lived with Sian during her first year at university, remembers a kind-hearted girl who was close to her mother.

"I have very, very fond memories of Sian, she was a lovely girl. She was very generous she'd buy friends gifts and take them out or meals," he said.

"She was a very confident sort of girl. She was very close to her mum and we would go to Tregaron for meals and she'd ring her all the time.

"She'd been to Cheltenham Ladies College and had that sort of privileged background and education. She was quite strong in some ways and I'd have found it difficult to really think that she'd be easily influenced."

Image caption Friend Sally Unwin said Sian Davies became withdrawn after her father's death

Ms Davies completed a law degree at Aberystwyth University then moved to London to study at the London School of Economics in the mid 70s and lived with her then-boyfriend Martin Clarke in Battersea.

She had a cousin from Tregaron living in south London, Eleri Morgan, who she was still close to.

"We'd meet up to go shopping. I was teaching in Greenwich at the time and Sian and I would go out in London," says Ms Morgan.

As time went on Ms Davies and Mr Clarke both became involved with the left wing communist movement and she began sharing leaflets, protesting and recruiting on behalf of the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, led by Aravindan Balakrishnan.

Sally Unwin visited Ms Davies and Mr Clarke in London when they were aged about 23.

"I can actually vividly remember this visit. She talked like a communist, she kept telling me that the end of the world would come from the east and we'd all be destroyed - all of this stuff," she said.

"It was like a robot was talking to me that was completely indoctrinated at the time.

"She was literally dressed in Maoist clothes with the Chinese communist radio on and we all had to listen to it.

"She wasn't anybody I knew by then. I just did not know this person at all. It was the last time I saw her."

Image caption Barry Morgan, who is originally from Hampshire but now lives north of Aberystwyth in Talybont, lived with Sian Davies at university

It was a time of unemployment, strikes and high inflation and Ms Davies became a "professional revolutionary", devoting herself to the sect, becoming convinced a red army from China was going to save Britain from fascism.

She paid for the collective, about a dozen in number at the time, to move to a house in Brixton where they opened a bookshop and Memorial Centre for Chairman Mao.

A policeman who walked the beat in Brixton at the time, Jon Shatford, clashed with the group on a number of occasions.

"I must say as far as Sian's concerned she fascinated all of us. She was a talking point of the police station," says the ex-Metropolitan Police officer.

"They used to walk virtually preaching Chairman Mao's philosophies and I remember they wore these big red badges. So passing one day I thought well, I'll just walk in and have a look at them.

"Krishnan was in the shop and he just stared at me. That was the first time I met Sian.

"She came from upstairs, opened the door, sees me in uniform and asks 'what's he doing, what's he doing?'

"I said I'm just having a look at this and she started screaming something like 'get out fascist'.

"She actually came after me into the street and I ended up arresting her."

Ms Davies and the collective were arrested several times over the next couple of years and she spent some time in Holloway Prison.

The group eventually went underground in 1978, and she broke off all contact with her cousin Eleri Morgan and mother Ceri Davies.

"Her mum retired from Tregaron and moved to Aberaeron and I would bump into her mum sometimes in Aberaeron," said her childhood friend Elizabeth Jones.

"Her mum would say 'I do miss seeing Sian, it's such a shame we sent her away, but there we go.

"'She's with someone now, and we're not allowed to contact her'. It was obvious she was worried about her."

Image caption Former police officer Jon Shatford arrested Sian Davies after a confrontation in London

It seems Sian Davies played a central role within the cult, paying bills, organising rotas and working as a personal chauffeur to Aravindan Balakrishnan, also known as Comrade Bala.

Despite him having a wife, Chandra, Sian Davies had a daughter, Katy Morgan-Davies.

She never played with other children, never went to school and was kept hidden for decades.

Sian Davies's mother paid a private detective to look for Ms Davies, and Eleri Morgan went to the house in Brixton to look for her to no avail.

The family did not hear anymore about her until 1997 when a police officer visited Mrs Davies to tell her her daughter was dead.

Ms Davies had fallen out of a second floor window at her Brixton home on Christmas Eve 1996 and died eight months later from her injuries.

Cult members had told the hospital they were her next of kin.

Breakdown

"I am furious that they didn't let auntie Ceri know that Sian was ill, so that she could visit her, especially when it became apparent that she wasn't going to get better," said her cousin Eleri Morgan.

An inquest into Ms Davies's death in 1998 concluded with an open verdict and the coroner expressed frustration at not knowing why or how Ms Davies fell from the bathroom window at the house.

However, from evidence heard in court last year, her cousin believes she was trying to leave the cult at the time.

"Out of the blue, after 18 years, she [Sian Davies] rang me in July 1996," said Ms Morgan.

"She wanted to know how everyone was. I tried to get her to meet me, but she wouldn't.

"I believe she had a breakdown after that because we heard in court that in the few days before she fell she was trying to run away and they stopped her and sat on her and tied her up, and put clothes in her mouth to stop her from shouting.

"She was begging for the phone so she could ring her mum but he wouldn't let her.

"She was ill and if she'd been allowed to see a doctor then she may well be alive today."

Image caption Eleri Morgan lost contact with Sian Davies in the late 1970s

Three years ago three women left the collective, including Ms Davies' daughter, now 33 years old.

Police arrested Balakrishnan and his trial heard how he used violence, fear and sexual degradation to control his victims, saying he had an invisible machine called Jackie that could read their thoughts and control people.

Photographs of Ms Davies have been plastered across the national newspapers for the past few years but it is only recently that the truth about her life inside the cult has come out.

Katy Morgan-Davies, who has waived her right to anonymity, gave evidence against her father in court, and is slowly getting to know her family from Wales.

It was a shock to Eleri Morgan to find out Ms Davies had a child, so many years after her death.

Secret child

"We didn't know about her and she didn't know about us. She didn't even know that Sian was her mum until after she had died," says Eleri Morgan.

"She only found out when she heard the other women talking about the inquest, saying that if anyone asked they weren't going to tell them that Sian had a child.

"She asked them if Sian was her mum, and they said yes.

"She had heard Sian talking about her mum so she knew she had a grandmother somewhere and was hoping she would come to get her some day.

"But of course we didn't know of her existence."

Ms Morgan-Davies now lives in the north of England and is in protective care. Eleri Morgan has met her and talks to her weekly.

"She's a fine, fine girl. She wants to go to Tregaron to see where her mum and grandmother came from and she will when she's strong enough."

  • Sian Davies's story features on BBC Radio Cymru's special edition of current affairs programme Manylu.

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