Apr 18, 2022

Cult leader’s Belfast ‘slave’ defended evil rapist to the end

Woman who denied she was held captive campaigned for release of manipulator who died in jail last week

Christopher Woodhouse
Sunday Life
April 17 2022

The Belfast woman who blew the lid off a Maoist cult that held her captive for 30 years was campaigning for its leader’s release from prison until his death last week.

Ex-Methodist College pupil Josephine Herivel was one of several women brainwashed by Aravindan Balakrishnan in his south London commune.

Last week, the 81-year-old died in Dartmoor Prison, where he was serving a 23-year sentence for rape, false imprisonment, child cruelty and assault.

One-time violin prodigy Ms Herivel, the daughter of Bletchley Park code breaker John Herivel, came to regret alerting the authorities and campaigned for his convictions to be quashed.

A small online community still proclaims Balakrishnan’s innocence, but Ms Herivel is the only one who has given interviews.

She fell under Balakrishnan’s influence in 1978 while studying at the Royal College of Music after attending a communist lecture with her then boyfriend.

She joined Balakrishnan’s Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought, based in terraced house in Brixton, where followers referred to him as “Comrade Bala”.

In 2013, Ms Herivel called a charity to tell them that Balakrishnan’s daughter was being held against her will, after which the sect was busted.

Afterwards, she spoke to say she regretted her actions, telling Channel 4: “[He] was a lot like my father, really, and of course my teacher as well because the experience with my father was very bad. What I was doing was diametrically opposed to him.”

Asked if the allegations were untrue, she said: “Yes, absolutely. I know Aravindan Balakrishnan, I know he is such a good person. Anybody who knows him would say the same thing.

“I have nearly 40 years of experience in the collective. I can’t talk like this without knowing.

“It has been my day-to-day experience that he is always showing concern for people, their wellbeing, their development.”

When asked about the testimony of women who said Balakrishnan had been violently abusive, she said: “These are outrageous allegations. They didn’t happen. I sincerely believe he has been framed and I am very angry about it.”

Ms Herivel denied knowing anything about Balakrishnan’s sexual activity with other members of the group and was adamant she was not held as a slave.

In 2016, she told The Guardian: “I have to help clear [his] name. It’s such an injustice. It’s wrong.”

However, Balalkrishnan’s daughter Katy Morgan-Davies has frequently spoken about her time in the cult, which she described as “dehumanising and degrading”.

“The people he looked up to were people like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein. You couldn’t criticise them,” she said.

“They were his gods and his heroes. These were the sort of people he wanted to emulate.”

One of the strangest details of Balakrishnan’s group to emerge during his trial at Southwark Crown Court was an unseen device he called Jackie.

He convinced members of the group that it had the power to control minds, global events and even kill people.

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