When news broke last week that three women had been rescued from decades of alleged slavery in South London, the details were sparse but intriguing.
The women — a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old Irish woman, and a 30-year-old Briton — had allegedly been kept as slaves for decades by a couple now in their 60s. It’s unclear if the youngest woman was born in to the alleged slavery.
Stranger still, over the weekend London’s Metropolitan Police announced that the victims had met their captors — a man and a woman of Indian and Tanzanian origin — through a shared “political ideology” and that they lived on what might be considered a “commune.” The couple have since been arrested and released on bail.
More gaps have been filled in on Monday. The BBC reports that the alleged captors are former Maoist activists Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda. Marxist archives link them to the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, which was based in Acre Lane, Brixton, south London, in the 1970s.
The Evening Standard has more on the Maoist organisation, which it reports ran a “notorious squat” in south London in the 1970s. Balakrishnan, known as comrade Bala, was reportedly expelled from the British Communist party in 1974 because his faction “attempted to put themselves above the discipline of the Party.”
The Standard spoke to Oxford University Professor Steve Rayner, director of the institute for science, innovation and society, who had researched the group in the 1970s. Rayner said that the group questioned the legitimacy of the state and other far left groups.
“Their ideology was profoundly detached from reality,” Professor Rayner told the Standard. “In my article on the organisation I described them as a millenarian sect. Their bookshop in Brixton — the Mao Tse Tung Memorial Centre — closed around 1978. I had assumed that they had sunk without trace until this recent news.”
The Daily Mail reports that the squat was raided in 1978, and that the couple later served a prison sentence for assaulting a police officer during the raid.
Exactly what the life in the “commune” was like, and how it could have gone undetected for so long, is unclear. The Standard reports that local social services were first notified of the house 15 years ago, when they were reportedly alerted that the youngest alleged captee had never attended school. It is believed that the group may have moved 13 times in a bid to avoid authorities, and there are some reports that a baby was seen by neighbours who went to their latest home.
Police say that the alleged slaves were kept in “invisible handcuffs” in a “disturbing picture of emotional control.”
However, letters from the youngest woman to a neighbour she had reportedly become obsessed with painted a far worse picture. In one letter she spoke of her “unspeakable torment” and warned the 26-year-old man that her alleged captors may harm him, according to the Standard.
The incident only came to light after the Irish woman called the Freedom Charity last month after seeing a documentary about modern slavery and forced marriages. That woman reportedly told police that she’d been held in the house for 30 years.
The women have now been taken to a place of safety, AFP reports, though they’ve been described as “highly traumatized.”
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