UK

Cousin of 'slavery' case woman will 'never forgive'

Image caption Police have made house-to-house inquiries in the Brixton area of south London

The cousin of a woman who belonged to a Maoist commune in south London has spoken about the inquest into her death, and shed new light on what it was like to live in the collective.

Sian Davies died in 1997 after more than two decades with the activists.

The leaders of the commune, Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, and his wife Chanda, 67, have been arrested and bailed on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and slavery.

Police investigations are continuing. Detectives have interviewed three women, aged 69, 57 and 30, who were allegedly held as "slaves" for 30 years.

Eleri Morgan, a retired teacher from south London, was a close friend of her cousin Sian when they were growing up in Wales.

Strong influence

When Ms Davies came to London in the 1970s to study at the London School of Economics she also joined the Maoist commune, devoting her life to its cause.

On Christmas Eve 1996 she fell out of a second-floor bathroom window at a house in south London where members of the group were then living.

The fall left her tetraplegic, and she spent eight months in King's College Hospital until her death in 1997.

It was only then that her family found out about the accident.

BBC Radio 4's The Report asked to see the transcript of the hearing into Ms Davies's death but the coroner is currently refusing to release the records because of the continuing police inquiry.

Ms Morgan attended the inquest into her cousin's death, along with a friend who took highly detailed notes of the proceedings, which The Report has seen.

They suggest that even when Ms Davies was facing death the group still exerted a strong influence on her. While its members visited her every day, the notes state why Ms Davies's family were not told about the accident.

According to the notes, the neurologist who had been treating her told the inquest that Ms Davies said she did not want her family to know about the accident or the fact that she was in hospital.

Mr Balakrishnan spoke at the inquest and, the notes say, he was asked if he had tried to persuade Ms Davies to tell her mother. He said he had not, that she was strong-minded, and he claimed that her mother was trying to influence Ms Davies.

"I don't think I could ever forgive them for not letting us know that she was in hospital," Ms Morgan told The Report.

Daughter puzzle

The coroner said Ms Davies's death was a "mystery" and recorded an open verdict.

But arguably the biggest mystery of all concerns Ms Davies's daughter Rosie.

The 30-year-old is the youngest of the three women, but very little is known about her life. She had seemingly gone undetected by the authorities for decades.

Ms Morgan's inquest notes only compound the puzzle.

Evidence given by Aishah Wahab, one of the women now being cared for by the authorities, seems to be the most detailed.

She said Sian Davies was very happy, but crucially when asked if Ms Davies had any children, she said "no" - something Ms Morgan remembers very clearly.

However, the BBC has seen the birth certificate of a 30-year-old woman, believed to be Rosie. It said "Mother: Sian Davies".

Rosie Davies would have been around 13 years old at the time of the inquest.

Lambeth council is combing through its records to check what it did know about Rosie Davies but said it does not want to comment on the case at the moment because of the continuing police inquiry.

The Report has spoken to people with knowledge of the current investigation, who have revealed that Rosie Davies's welfare may be the main reason the group sought help in the first place.

She is said to have a medical condition.

The three women are being cared for by trauma experts.

Single visit

Ms Morgan said after that Sian Davies joined the collective she became estranged from her family, with only the occasional letter sent to her mother, Ceri.

"They were not like a typical daughter writing to her mother. I can always remember the phrase, 'I'm looking after the mothers of the world'. And it would mention Comrade Bala [Aravindan Balakrishnan], and the work they were doing."

During her time in the commune, Ms Davies only visited her mother once, accompanied by Josephine Herival, another of the women.

"Sian went down with Josephine and another person. They stayed a day, and they went... Sian was never allowed out and she always had the two women with her."

The Metropolitan Police has released very limited information about the three women and has restricted access to them.

But one person allowed to meet Ms Wahab was her sister, Kamar Mautum. From her home in Malaysia she spoke about what it was like to be reunited with her after 40 years apart.

"I was very happy, because sometimes I thought Aishah was dead... I told her briefly what happened all the 40-odd years she was away. I did tell her that we were all very disappointed with her decision for not coming back."

Ms Mautum said her sister was happy, looked healthy and promised she would come home - but she did not say anything about the group or Mr Balakrishnan.

"I didn't know anything about the group. I asked her, but the police didn't quite approve of all the probing questions."

After their meeting, Ms Mautum is not sure whether her sister really was a victim of slavery.

"The word 'slavery' is a very ambiguous word. She was not shackled, she was not physically abused. If she was emotionally or mentally abused, she did not show it.

"But the word 'slavery', it has a deeper meaning than just emotional bondage... I don't understand how this man has such an influence over her. Even now it's a mystery to us."

The Metropolitan Police said the investigation was examining a range of allegations.

In a statement it said "at this stage we are not prepared to provide a running commentary as this is a live and fast moving investigation, however we can confirm that the allegations police are exploring span a 30-year period."

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