London slavery case: Suspects 'former Maoist activists'

Tom Symonds: "This house is now one of 13 addresses being investigated by the police"

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A married couple suspected of holding three women as slaves for more than 30 years are former Maoist activists Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda, the BBC understands.

According to national Marxist records they were leading figures at the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre in Acre Lane, Brixton, south London, in the 1970s.

It was raided by police and five people, including the pair, were held.

Mr Balakrishnan, 73, and his 67-year-old wife were arrested on Thursday.

Three women were rescued from their home in Brixton a month earlier.

What is Maoism?

The name comes from the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, who put industry under state ownership, collectivised farming and ruthlessly suppressed opposition.

Maoism within China represented "traditional conventional communism" but with an authoritarian class, according to Dr Xiaobing Wang of Manchester University.

Outside China, it is often used to characterise rebel groups, he says.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Maoism outside China often meant communal living and egalitarianism with an authoritarian structure, Prof James Grayson, of the University of Sheffield says.

The couple have been linked to 13 addresses across London, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed. The force would not confirm or deny their names.

Police carried out house-to-house inquiries in and around Peckford Place, Brixton - where the women were rescued - over the weekend.

Officers said the women had suffered years of "physical and mental abuse".

They lived together as a "collective" after two of the women met the man through a "shared political ideology".

Home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said several sources had suggested a fifth woman - who was elderly and used a wheelchair - had stayed at the house in Brixton, though it was unclear whether she was a permanent resident.

The Metropolitan Police would neither confirm nor deny the presence of another woman at the property during last week's arrest.

'Psychological cage'

Records of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) show Mr Balakrishnan was suspended from the organisation in 1974.

He set up a splinter group in the same year called The Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

It was based at Acre Lane, Brixton. The building was used as a bookshop and political commune.

Local shopkeeper Cliff McKinson said he visited the building on three occasions in the 1970s.

Acre Lane, Brixton A building in Acre Lane, Brixton, was a political commune in the 1970s and is now a restaurant

"They were just sort of gathering inside and outside; I was fascinated, I went there three times," he said.

"There were women who come and go freely, especially in the evenings. I was at work when the police came and raided it."

Professor Dennis Tourish, from the Royal Holloway University of London, said followers of Marxism often committed their lives to their beliefs.

"They develop a number of organisational rituals of which communal living is one," he said.

"The people they are working with and recruiting commit all their resources, including their time and money, and in a sense their souls to supporting the aims and objectives of the group."

Criminal psychologist Dr David Holmes said the details appeared to suggest a "kind of political cult" or "enforced commune" was in effect holding the captives "almost in a psychological cage".

Previous arrests

The three alleged victims, a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian, are in the care of a non-governmental organisation following their rescue last month.

Police said the 30-year-old woman, who is believed to have lived her entire life in servitude, had a birth certificate but no other official papers.

She is said to have written more than 200 impassioned letters and poems to her neighbour over an eight-year period, the Daily Mail reported.

In one of the letters, she said she felt like a "fly trapped in a spider's web" and described her "unspeakable torment".

Map of Brixton

The case came to light after the Irish woman rang Freedom Charity to say she had been held against her will.

The couple were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and slavery. They have also been arrested for immigration offences.

They have been released on bail until January.

'Complex case'

Police said they were of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s.

Thirty-seven officers from the Met's human trafficking unit are working on the case.

Lambeth Council said it had been working closely with the police in the weeks before the women's rescue.

A spokesperson said: "This is an extremely complex case involving a number of individuals going back decades.

"It is too early at this stage to provide the detail of any contact we may have had with them."

The council said the security, confidentiality and well-being of those involved was paramount.

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