By Sam Marsden, and Martin Evans, London Telegraph
The Maoist collective at the centre of the south London slave scandal was criticised by a coroner after one of its members died falling from a window in mysterious circumstances, the Daily Telegraph can reveal.
Sian Davies, 44, originally from Aberaron in Wales, fell out of an upstairs bathroom window at the house where the extreme left-wing group were living on Christmas Eve, 1997.
The former student, who had joined the commune in 1973 after arriving in London to study at university, spent seven months in hospital with critical injuries but died on August 3 the following year.
Members of the cult failed to tell Miss Davies’s family that she was in hospital, claiming instead that she was on holiday in India.
The group was founded in 1974 by Aravindan Balakrishnan, a charismatic Maoist supporter from Singapore.
Mr Balakrishnan arrived in Britain in the 1960s and joined the Communist Party, but he was expelled in 1974 after falling out with the leadership.
He later married Tanzanian Marxist, Chanda Pattni and the pair set up The Workers’ Institute of Marxism Leninism Mao Tse-tung Thought, recruiting a handful of followers who were based at a bookshop in Acre Lane, Brixton.
The group were so extreme that even other left-wing organisations mocked their rhetoric and it is believed it was the inspiration behind the BBC sitcom Citizen Smith which parodied a gang of Trotskyist revolutionaries in Tooting.
The group mainly targeted overseas students, who shared their left-wing ideology but were struggling to settle in to life in Britain.
Miss Davies had been a member for 24-years living in a series of squats and council houses across south London.
At the inquest into her death, the coroner for Southwark, Selena Lynch strongly criticised the other members of the collective, saying that she could not understand how Miss Davies had come to fall out of the window.
She said: “I wanted to call everyone in the house as we had a mystery, there’s no other way of describing it.
“I still find it hard to know how she fell out of the window, indeed what was she doing opening the window at that cold time of year.”
At the hearing, the other members of the group who gave evidence all claimed that Miss Davies had fallen while taking a bath and claimed she had pleaded with them not to tell her family about the accident in order not to upset them.
A fellow member of the collective said she had seen Miss Davies go into the bathroom on Christmas Eve.
She said: “She went in and I heard her opening the window. Then suddenly I heard a woman scream about 10-15 seconds later. I saw the window was open all the way up. I shouted to everyone and they call came upstairs.”
But Miss Davies’ devastated family said they were furious they were not informed about the accident.
One of her cousins, Eleri Morgan from Eltham, south-east London explained that Miss Davies had severed virtually all contact with her family after joining the group in the 1970s.
She had been recruited to the Marxist organisation while studying in London and had remained a member of the sect for 24-years.
She said: “Sian’s mum phoned the house just after Christmas and they told her Sian was in India and loved her very much – but she was really in hospital.
“I am so angry they didn’t contact us, even when it was obvious she wouldn’t get better.”
Speaking from her home in south east London, the 64-year-old retired teacher said: “They passed themselves off as her relatives. They refused to let her go to Stoke Mandeville [a hospital specialising in the treatment of spinal injuries] because they wouldn’t have been able to see her there.”
She recalled her surprise on meeting Mr Balakrishnan for the first time at the inquest to see that he was a “real weed with teeth missing” rather than the charismatic figure she had been expecting.
Mrs Morgan said she wondered whether her cousin had been trying to escape the group when she died, and said one of her relatives had speculated that the 30-year-old girl freed by the police might have been her daughter.
Miss Davies, who was originally from Aberaron in Wales, read law at Aberystwyth University before furthering her studies at the London School of Economics, where she became involved with Mr Balakrishnan’s group.
The corner returned an open verdict on Miss Davies.
A senior council source confirmed that Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda were arrested last week by police amid allegations that they held three women for more than 30 years.
The alleged victims – a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irishwoman and a 69-year-old Malaysian – are believed to have suffered years of “physical and mental abuse” at the hands of the pair.
House-to-house inquiries have been carried out in Peckford Place, Brixton, south London, where the three women were found, and police have confirmed that there are ongoing inquiries relating to a total of 13 addresses, all in the capital, linked to the couple.
The couple, aged 73 and 67, are believed to have been well-known to the police in the 1970s after setting up a communist squat, the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, in Acre Lane, Brixton in 1976.
Mr Balakrishnan, who was known as Comrade Bala, was a former member of the national executive committee of the Communist party of England (Marxist-Leninist) but documents show he was suspended from the party in 1974 for pursuing “conspiratorial and splittist activities”.
Documents also show how in 1978 police raided the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, arresting 14 members of the organisation, including Aravindan Balakrishnan and wife Chanda, referred to as Comrade Chanda.
A source at Lambeth Council said the couple were believed to have been in the property for about 10 years after moving there from a council property, and concerns had previously been raised with police about the education of the youngest woman.
Scotland Yard would not comment on the claims, but previously said two of the victims met the male suspect through a “shared political ideology”, living with him at an address that was effectively called a “collective”.
Speaking earlier, Metropolitan Police commander Steve Rodhouse said: ”We believe that two of the victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology, and that they lived together at an address that you could effectively call a ‘collective’.
”The people involved, the nature of that collective and how it operated is all subject to our investigation and we are slowly and painstakingly piecing together more information. I will not give any further information about it.
”Somehow that collective came to an end and the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects.
”How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what we are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims’ lives.”
The youngest of the three alleged victims is said to have written letters to neighbour Marius Feneck (26), describing her life as being “like a fly trapped in a spider’s web”.
The woman wrote more than 500 letters to him in seven years, the Guardian said, after becoming infatuated with him.
One letter apparently told of the “unspeakable torment” she suffered behind locked doors and windows, and of how she was terrified that her captors — “these evil criminals… who dare to call themselves ‘my relatives’” — might do something to him.
The case came to light after the Irishwoman rang the Freedom Charity last month to say she had been held against her will.
Scotland Yard said that part of the agreement on October 25th when the women were removed from the address was that police would not take any action at that stage.
None of the women was reported missing after being rescued, police said, and all three are now in the care of a specialist non-governmental organisation.
Officers have recovered a birth certificate for the 30-year-old woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, but no other official documents for her have been found.
The couple, who are of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s, have now been released on bail until a date in January.
A Lambeth Council spokeswoman said the case was “very complex” dating back decades and was a police-led operation, adding: “We are working very closely with police.”
Irish Times/ PA
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