Belfast Telegraph

London slavery house victim in Maoist commune is Belfast born Methody girl

'Captive of 30 years' was born and brought up in Belfast

By Paul Peachey

A woman suspected of being held as a slave in a Maoist commune in London for 30 years is from Belfast and was a former pupil at the city's Methodist College, it has emerged.

Josephine Herivel grew up in the city with her two sisters and went to Belfast Methodist College.

Her father was one of the key figures who cracked Germany's Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II.

Cambridge University academic John Herivel was trained by Alan Turing, known as the father of modern computing.

After the war Mr Herivel and his wife Elizabeth returned to his home city of Belfast, where he lectured at Queen's University.

The couple had three children: Josephine, Mary and Susan. He died in 2011.

Josephine was a talented musician before leaving Belfast for London, where her family lost contact with her.

She was featured in a 1997 television documentary on the death of Maoist commune member Sian Davies (44), who died after mysteriously falling from a window. After Ms Davies' inquest, members of the commune she belonged to reacted angrily when a television crew asked to speak to Aravindan Balakrishnan, the charismatic head of the group. "You are part of the fascist state," said Ms Herivel, who is believed to have joined Mr Balakrishnan's group in the 1970s.

"We don't want to talk to you."

Ms Herivel is also the woman believed to have called the Freedom Charity that led to her and two others being rescued from a life of slavery in Brixton.

Images of the Maoist ideologue accused of keeping the three women as slaves for three decades also emerged from a 15-year-old television documentary that revealed a glimpse of what life was like within the left-wing commune.

Mr Balakrishnan -- as Comrade Bala -- was caught on camera attending Ms Davies' inquest, who fell from a bathroom window of the house in Herne Hill, where the group was living in 1997.

Mr Balakrishnan is shown being followed by a woman believed to be Ms Herivel. After calling the TV crew fascists, Ms Herivel is seen retreating into the house with two older companions, one of whom is thought to be a 69-year-old Malaysian woman who was also released last month, footage released by ITV News showed.

The women are alleged to have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of Mr Balakrishnan (73) and his wife Chanda (67), who were arrested in Brixton last week.

At the 1997 inquest, a coroner criticised the collective over the death of Sian Davies (44) and expressed doubts that she would have opened a window on a cold Christmas Eve night and fallen to the street below. She died from her injuries after spending seven months in hospital.

Miss Davies, originally from Aberaeron, west Wales, was a member of the collective for 24 years after arriving in London to study at university. Her family say that members of the commune falsely claimed to be her next of kin and withheld news of her death from them.

Miss Davies' cousin, Eleri Morgan, said members of the group told the family she was in India and prevented her from being moved to the specialist spinal hospital, Stoke Mandeville.

Police have confirmed that they had yet to interview Josephine Herivel or the other two captives -- one of whom was named in reports as Rosie Davies, a 30-year-old Briton who spent her whole life with the group.

It was unclear whether Sian Davies was her mother. Detectives have said they have the woman's birth certificate.

The Malaysian woman is reportedly called Aishah, and is thought to have moved to Britain in 1968 with her fiance before falling under the influence of Mr Balakrishnan.

Scotland Yard said the facts would not be established quickly, given that what happened in the house took place over three decades.

Mr Balakrishnan, from Singapore, and his Tanzanian Marxist wife, who were arrested on suspicion of assault, false imprisonment and immigration offences, are on bail until January.

FACTFILE

Aravindan Balakrishnan founded his group -- the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought -- in 1974 after he was expelled from the committee of another communist group. In 1978, police raided the Mao Zedong Centre in Brixton, arresting 14 members, including Mr Balakrishnan and his wife, on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph