British couple accused of holding women for decades led leftist collective

The couple suspected to have held three women against their will in a London apartment for over 30 years have been revealed to be founders of a Maoist collective group.

Sky News reports that Aravindan Balakrishnan, a communist with roots in Singapore, founded the group in the mid-1970s after he was expelled from the Communist Party of Britain for "conspiratorial and splittist activities."

Following his break with the Communist Party, Balakrishnan and his wife, Chanda Pattni -- a Marxist originally from Tanzania -- founded the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, in the South London neighborhood of Brixton.

The Balakrishnans, aged 73 and 67, were arrested last week and accused of holding three women -- a 30-year-old Briton, a 57-year-old Irishwoman and a 69-year-old Malaysian -- against their will and inflicting "physical and mental abuse" on them.

The case came to light after the Irishwoman called the Freedom Charity last month to say that she had been held against her will.

Sky also reported that the couple had been previously arrested, along with 12 others in a raid on the center by British police in 1978. It is not clear how the case was resolved.

Police say the group generally drew its membership from overseas students, who shared their left-wing ideology but were struggling to settle in to life in Britain. In this case, it is believed that the two older women fell in with the Balakrishnans and remained with the group after the collective came to an end. It is not clear how the youngest member came to join the group, though Sky News reported that concerns had been raised about her education over the 10 years the group had lived at the property where the women were discovered.

The Daily Telegraph also reports that the collective was criticized by a coroner after another member of the group, a 44-year-old Welshwoman named Sian Davies, fell out of an upstairs bathroom window at the house where the group was living on Christmas Eve, 1997, and died of her injuries the following August.

The paper reported that Davies had joined the group as a student in the mid-1970s and had followed it as its headquarters moved across a series of flats and council houses in South London. Family members contacted by the Telegraph said that Davies had cut off almost all contact with the family after joining the group. In addition, members of the group failed to tell Davies' family that she was in the hospital, claiming instead that she had gone on vacation to India.

At the coroner's hearing into Davies' death, members of the group each testified that Davies had fallen out of the window while taking a bath. However, Southwark coroner Selena Lynch was unconvinced, telling the Telegraph, "I still find it hard to know how she fell out of the window, indeed what was she doing opening the window at that cold time of year."

Lynch returned an open verdict in Davies' case, which under British law means that she believed the death to be suspicious, but could not determine a specific cause.

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