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The musical prodigy who threw her life away for 'teacher'

By Deborah McAleese

Published 05/12/2015

Josephine Herivel
Josephine Herivel

Josephine Herivel abandoned a life of privilege and a promising future after she met Aravindan Balakrishnan during the Seventies.

Within months he had brainwashed her into dropping out of university and joining his Maoist cult, where she remained for 30 years until her rescue by police in 2013.

Despite being enslaved by a man who used violence and fear to control the women he held captive for so long, Josephine has retained an unwavering loyalty towards him.

Police and psychologists believe she is suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

Josephine (right) grew up in Belfast as one of three daughters of John Herivel, a brilliant mathematician who helped to crack the Nazi Enigma code as part of the groundbreaking team at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

She was a very talented musician - aged just 14 she was awarded a perfect score to win the under-16 violin solo category at the Belfast Music Festival.

Then, in 1973, she went to college in Devon, before later moving to London to study at the Royal College of Music.

However, she quickly dropped out of university and then walked away from a promising career to become a radical left-wing activist after she met Balakrishnan. In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph in October, Josephine insisted that she had not needed to be saved from the cult.

"I didn't need rescued," she said.

"I could have left at any time, but I didn't want to. The State has split our family up. People need to know the truth."

Josephine referred to the Maoist cult as "the collective" and to leader Balakrishnan as her "teacher".

"In the 1970s I met some people in the collective and I attended a meeting," she said. "I was actively interested in politics. My parents were very right-wing and I was miserable. The collective rescued me.

"I was studying at the Royal College of Music, but I was very depressed and I didn't know where my life was going.

"I really wasn't happy. I know I had a good career ahead of me, but I wasn't happy.

"The collective has given me a life, a reason to live. We took care of each other."

After joining the group Josephine and a number of other women lived with Balakrishnan and his wife for some 30 years.

The only time she left the house unaccompanied was to go to work in an industrial laundry. Her wages were then handed over to her "teacher" to be divided among the household.

"In the collective, we'd pool our money," Josephine said. "Some would go to work, some would stay at home.

"I worked in an industrial laundry in Brixton, then in Littlewoods. I wanted to work for the collective. It's what families do, they look after each other."

But on October 18, 2013, Josephine made a secret phone call to the Freedom Charity claiming she had been held against her will for decades.

She said that she was with two other women - a 69-year-old Malaysian and a 30-year-old Briton. The charity contacted the police the same day as the call, and the information was passed on to the Metropolitan Police's specialist human trafficking unit on October 21.

The three women were removed from the house on October 25 and separately taken into protective custody. At the time officers said it was the worst case of modern day slavery ever uncovered in Britain, and it made international news.

But Josephine still insisted: "I was not a slave, I was never a slave. Whatever I said to the police, they ignored that and said I had been a slave.

"I am being treated as someone with Stockholm syndrome, but I don't have Stockholm syndrome."

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