Northern Ireland news

Belfast woman hits out at judge after cult verdict

Belfast-born Josephine Herivel (left) and Chandra Balakrishnan, the wife of Aravindan Balakrishnan, attend his trial in London. Picture by Steve Parsons/PA Wire
John Monaghan

A BELFAST woman held as a slave by a Maoist cult leader hit out at a judge yesterday as he was found guilty of sexually assaulting two women and imprisoning his own daughter in a commune for 30 years.

Josephine Herivel (59), one of his former followers, who was born in Belfast and educated at Methodist College, shouted across the courtroom floor: "You are sending an innocent man to prison. Shame on you."

Ms Herivel was one of three women freed from a house in Brixton, south London, after the alarm was raised in a telephone call to a charity in 2013.

Aravindan Balakrishnan (75), known as 'Comrade Bala', faces the prospect of dying in jail after carrying out a "brutal" campaign of violence and "sexual degradation" against the women over several decades.

Balakrishnan, of Enfield, north London, was found guilty of 14 charges including rape, indecent assault, false imprisonment and cruelty to a child under 16.

Ms Herivel said yesterday that she regretted her decision to alert the authorities and refused to condemn Balakrishnan.

She told The Daily Telegraph: "We did not want the police involved. It was a family affair as far as we were concerned, not a matter for the police. I asked the charity to help because I did not want her (his daughter) to end up on the street."

Ms Herivel, a talented musician, moved to England as an adult and became estranged from her family when she became involved with Balakrishnan's cult.

Her father, John Herivel, was a mathematician who played a major role in Britain's efforts to defeat the Nazis in World War II after helping to crack the code for the Luftwaffe's Enigma machine at the famous Bletchley Park centre.

Balakrishnan brainwashed his followers into thinking he had God-like powers, and invented a supernatural force known as "Jackie" who, he said, could trigger natural disasters if his will was flouted.

After fathering a daughter with one of his acolytes, he kept her a prisoner in their London home for three decades.

Beaten, banned from singing nursery rhymes, going to school or making friends, his daughter described herself as a "shadow woman" who was kept like a "caged bird".

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she was "overwhelmed with relief" after his conviction for imprisoning her.

She had escaped eight years earlier in 2005, but was sent home by police because it was a bank holiday, the trial was told.

The pensioner, who came to Britain from Singapore in 1963, denied the abuse, and insisted the women vied for his affection and he treated his daughter with compassion.

One of the women, Sian Davies - who was the mother of his daughter - suffered fatal injuries when she fell from a window at the cult's home on Christmas Eve in 1996, with a coroner now reportedly considering whether to re-open an inquest into her death.

Police said Balakrishnan's victims endured years of "torment and torture".

Balakrishnan was remanded in custody to be sentenced on January 29, with Judge Deborah Taylor saying that he faces a "substantial custodial sentence".

Ms Herivel said: "The collective is my life. Nothing has changed my feelings towards the other members of the collective. They will never destroy our feelings for one another. Aravindan was like Edward Snowden long before Edward Snowden began."

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