NI woman defends cult leader after he is found guilty

Maoist cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan
Maoist cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan

The Ulster-born woman who alerted the authorities to the activities of cult leader Aravindan Balakrishnan’s activities claimed that he is innocent and said that she regretted raising the alarm in 2013.

Josephine Herivel claimed he has been “framed”.

She shouted “you are sending an innocent man to prison” across the courtroom after the 75-year-old was on Friday found guilty of sexual assault.

The former Methodist College Belfast pupil joined Balakrishnan’s group in the 1970s while she was studying music in London.

Ms Herivel, the daughter of World War II Bletchley Park codebreaker John Herivel, helped Balakrishnan’s daughter to escape in 2013, but insisted allegations of violence and abuse are “outrageous”. Ms Herivel told Channel 4 News she was surprised to hear Balakrishnan, known as Comrade Bala, had sex with some of his female followers and denied being kept as a “slave”.

“I know he’s such a good person. Anybody who knows him will say the same thing. I know he’s consistent in his practise. I know he is an extremely unique person,” she said. “I seriously believe he’s been framed”.

Ms Herivel joined the collective nearly 40 years ago and said he was like her “father” as well as her “teacher”.

Asked about his appeal, she replied: “Well I can tell you that the first time I spoke to him he’s talking about things which it’s opening up my mind and I remember saying to him, what you’re talking about is very exciting.”

She added: “I know it in my heart that he’s innocent.” She spoke of “Jackie”, a machine Balakrishnan claimed had supernatural powers, and said she believed he could “make somebody die”.

Asked about triggering the events which led to Balakrishnan’s conviction, she said: “I just could never have dreamed such a situation could come about. I regret it very much now, but at that time I didn’t think it would all blow up like this.