The couple who allegedly held three women for more than 30 years were leaders of an extremist Maoist collective, it has been claimed.
Aravindan Balakrishnan, also known as "Comrade Bala", retained an iron grip on his tiny Maoist party – the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought – before it was shut down by a police raid on his Brixton commune in 1978.
An academic studying the radical political groups at the time was struck by Mr Balakrishnan's ability to persuade his followers to eject anyone perceived as a threat to his leadership.
Professor Steve Rayner, of Oxford University, who studied the movement as a PhD student at the time, concluded: "It is the power of a guru."
Or, as a former activist who knew Mr Balakrishnan put it: "If Mao was God, then he was the Pope."
Scotland Yard detectives are now investigating whether Mr Balakrishnan's charismatic powers were deployed in exerting control of a more sinister kind, after he and his wife Chanda were arrested on suspicion of holding three women – one reportedly from Armagh – against their will for more than 30 years.
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. The alleged victims are believed to have suffered years of "physical and mental abuse" at the hands of the pair.
Two of the alleged victims – a 69-year-old Malaysian and a 57-year-old Irish woman, who is believed to be the mother of the third victim, a 30-year-old Briton – met "Comrade Bala" through what police described as a "shared political ideology". But Mr Balakrishnan's status in the capital's febrile scene for revolutionary politics 40 years ago became clear only yesterday.
The 73-year-old, who along with his 67-year-old wife was arrested on suspicion of assault, false imprisonment and immigration offences following the release of three women, had become a senior member of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) but was expelled in 1974.
Mr Balakrishnan and his wife went on to form the Workers' Institute, a self-declared outpost of Chinese Communism which eventually acquired a shop premises in Acre Lane, Brixton, south London, and set itself up as the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre.
Inside the building, an atmosphere of increasingly fervent belief in the interpretations of Maoist "oracles" offered by Comrade Bala is alleged to have taken hold.
It included his forecast that China's People's Liberation Army would launch its revolutionary invasion of Britain by 1980.
The Balakrishnans have been released on police bail.