A slight, grey-haired pensioner, there was little hint of the charismatic, arch manipulator Aravindan Balakrishnan truly was.
But since the 1970s Balakrishnan had successfully brainwashed a group of women into thinking he had God-like powers, effectively keeping them psychological prisoners while he subjected them to decades of abuse.
Calling himself Comrade Bala, Balakrishnan idolised tyrants Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein.
Arriving in Britain from Singapore in the 60s to study at LSE, Balakrishnan founded his Maoist Institute in 1976 on Brixton’s Acre Lane to prepare the British populace for “liberation” from the Chinese.
He ran his tiny south London cult, the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with an iron fist – banning his daughter from leaving the house or mixing with other children and sexually assaulting two of his followers.
To keep his devotees in check, Balakrishnan invented an invisible war machine called Jackie which he said could kill or trigger earthquakes if anyone went against his will.
Acclaimed director Vanessa Engle tells the extraordinary story of Balakrishnan’s cult in a BBC2 documentary on Thursday at 9pm.
The Cult Next Door features interviews with two of the women who escaped: Aisha Wahab, a 72-year-old Malaysian woman who was part of the cult for 40 years, and Katy Morgan-Davies, Balakrishnan’s daughter, who was born and raised in captivity.
Morgan-Davies’ mother was Sian Davies, one of Balakrishnan’s followers and a former pupil at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, who died in 1997 after mysteriously falling out of a bathroom window in the house the group were living in.
But growing up, Morgan-Davies was told she was a “waif” who had been adopted by the cult. Starved of affection, she was banned from leaving the house unaccompanied and routinely psychologically and physically abused.
As a child, she became so lonely she would talk to the taps in the bathroom and tried to make friends with the rats and mice that scuttled through the kitchen.
Wahab and Morgan-Davies were two of a trio of women who eventually escaped in 2013 after memorising the number for an anti-slavery charity they saw on the news.
As he was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in January last year, Judge Deborah Taylor told Balakrishnan he had “shown no remorse” for his “grave and serious crimes.”
Diagnosed as suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder and a grandiose sense of his own self-importance, he was convicted of four counts of rape, six counts of indecent assault two counts of ABH, cruelty to a child under 16 and false imprisonment.
Following her father’s incarceration, Morgan-Davies, who now attends college and lives in Leeds, said: “I’ve been a non-person all my life and now is my chance to be myself.”
The Cult Next Door will air on BBC2 on Thursday 26 January at 9pm.