British police interview 'Maoist slave' women for first time

British police were Wednesday for the first time interviewing three women allegedly held captive by a Maoist couple in London for 30 years, as fresh details of their secretive commune emerged.

Hasnah Abdul Wahab holds an old portrait of her younger sister, Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab (centre), during an interview with Agence France-Presse at her house in Jelebu, a district of Negeri Sembilan, outside Kuala Lumpur on November 27, 2013

An elderly Indian-born man and his Tanzanian wife -- believed to have led a small Marxist splinter group in the 1970s -- were arrested last week accused of keeping the women as "slaves" in a south London flat.

The women walked out last month saying they had been trapped there for decades, but police revealed that until Wednesday they had only been in indirect contact with them because they were awaiting approval for full interviews from trauma experts.

Commander Steve Rodhouse of London's Metropolitan Police said Wednesday that officers had "not yet been able to formally interview the victims in this case so we don't fully understand the nature of the allegations.

"We are moving to a point where we will be able to interview the victims and our plan is actually to do so today."

He added that the victims were "in the care of specialists who have got great experience of dealing with people who have been subject to trauma. We're working to that advice of those experts as to how best to handle those victims."

A police spokesman told AFP the interviews had begun.

The women were "freed" on October 25 after one of them contacted a charity that usually deals with forced marriage and honour-based violence.

Their alleged captors, named by media as 73-year-old Aravindan Balakrishnan and his 67-year-old wife Chanda, have been freed on bail pending further investigations.

Police in Kuala Lumpur have identified the first woman as 69-year old Malaysian Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab, who came to Britain as a student in around 1968 before joining the radical left and turning her back on her family.

Siti Aishah's sister, Kamar Mahtum, was travelling to London on Wednesday hoping to be reunited with her.

The other women are believed to be the daughter of a World War II code-breaker, who like Siti Aishah became a communist, and a 30-year-old who has spent her entire life inside the Maoist "collective".

Relatives of the two older victims have described them as ordinary women who fell under the spell of the man known to activists as "Comrade Bala".

Siti Aishah was reportedly so drawn in by his Marxist rhetoric that she dumped her fiance and moved in with the collective.

British media said she suffered a stroke recently but was not receiving treatment -- and that this is what pushed the women to ask for help.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday identified the second woman as 59-year-old Josephine Herivel, whose father John was one of the Bletchley Park codebreakers who helped Britain and its allies win World War II.

Raised in Northern Ireland's capital Belfast, Herivel is believed to have moved to London in the 1970s and, like Siti Aishah, disowned her family after becoming involved with the far-left.

Appearing in court in 1978 after the police raided the Maoist group's Brixton headquarters, Herivel shocked the judge by denouncing him as a "fascist lackey".

She also appears in news footage from 1997 after the mysterious death of another commune member, 44-year-old Sian Davies, who had fallen from the bathroom window of a house where Balakrishnan and his supporters were living.

When journalists went to the house to ask what had happened, Herivel, a slim woman with mousy hair, refused to talk to them.

"You're part of the fascist state," she told them at the door. Two women of east Asian appearance peered out from behind her.

The third woman is thought to be Davies' daughter Rosie, who also goes by the name Prem Maopimduzi Davies. She is believed to have spent her entire life in the commune with very little contact with the outside world.

Several newspapers have published pictures of a slim, dark-haired woman purported to be Rosie.

Police believe the women were brainwashed and possibly beaten, but not sexually abused.

It appears that they were occasionally allowed out of the house, and detectives are working to understand the "invisible handcuffs" that were used to control them.

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Writer: AFP
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