THE leader of a Maoist cult has been jailed for 23 years for keeping his daughter, Katy Morgan-Davies, prisoner for 30 years and for sexually abusing two other women. Katy has waived her anonymity to speak about her ordeal at the hands of Aravindan Balakrishnan and how she is rebuilding her life in Leeds.
It is perhaps little wonder that The Secret Garden struck a chord with Katy Morgan-Davies.
The story of a child unwanted by her parents and confined for much of her early life in some ways mirrors her own.
For Miss Morgan-Davies, however, the reality is altogether more disturbing than the plight of the fictional Mary Lennox.
Kept a prisoner inside the sinister Maoist cult run by her father, Aravindan Balakrishnan, for the first 30 years of her life, reading was one of the few pleasures she was allowed.
The rest of her time in confinement was characterised by violence, abuse and pseudo-political brainwashing.
Balakrishnan was today jailed for 23 for falsely imprisoning and mistreating his daughter and for raping and sexually abusing two other women over a period of more than three decades.
Now aged 33 and living in Headingley, Leeds, Miss Morgan-Davies is slowly rebuilding her life and has waived her court-ordered right to anonymity to have her voice heard for the first time.
“I have been an un-person all my life, so now I want to reclaim the identity that the cult stole from me,” she said.
The legacy of her father’s reign of terror is apparent even before Miss Morgan-Davies begins to speak.
Our photographer is asked to be cautious about his use of the flash – her confinement in dingy conditions for three decades has made her sensitive to bright lights.
She walks slowly and deliberately – a product of being cooped up without the freedom to stretch her legs as a child.
“I describe myself as a caged bird with clipped wings,” she says. “Even when I was out of the cage I couldn’t fly. I wasn’t able to find my way around, I would get lost. I felt overwhelmed by everything.”
Miss Morgan-Davies was given the name “Prem” after being born to Sian Davies, a devotee of Balakrishnan with whom he had an affair in the 1980s.
Inside the south London commune, however, where the collective was everything, the notion of family did not exist. She did not discover who her mother was until after her death in 1997, from injuries suffered in a fall from a window several months earlier.
Deprived of basic human contact and the affection every child needs, she was instead abused and degraded – and became so desperate for company that she tried to use food to coax rats from under the floorboards.
Inanimate objects like taps and even the toilet became “friends” when they were “nice” to her.
“My early memories are of violence, of being beaten and seeing other people in the house being physically abused as well as cursed,” she said. “There was a lot of shouting.
“I remember another woman being thrown onto the settee and crying. I was two or three.”
Inside the cult, Balakrishnan – known as Comrade Bala – ruled by fear, convincing followers of his extreme Left world view that he had divine powers and claiming that anyone who opposed the cult was part of a fascist conspiracy.
Beatings from the “teacher” were commonplace and comrades were forced to stand and listen to his lectures for hours on end, being slapped awake if they nodded off.
He instilled fear by claiming he was protected by an imaginary god-like being known as Jackie.
Miss Morgan-Davies said: “Jackie was an all-powerful, all seeing, all knowing being that can control our minds, knows what we are thinking and if we thought bad thoughts about Bala or, heaven forbid, disagreed with him in any way, harm would come to us and ultimately we would be killed.
“I can see it’s nonsense now, it’s just a weapon of control and power.”
Allowed out of the house only for accompanied visits to the laundrette and banned from making friends, she was forced to keep a diary detailing the minutiae of her life, down to what she ate and when she went to the toilet.
In one entry from October 1990 she wrote: “Comrade Bala disciplined comrade Prem (for) talking in bed. Learn to listen to comrades when they are giving Comrade Bala’s guidelines.”
She took to standing day after day at the window, hoping that someone would one day notice if she disappeared.
“There was a garden but I was never allowed to go out on my own and I was told never to make contact, never even to look at other people through the window,” she said. “They were all fascist agents and they were going to do harm to me. I didn’t know anything else and everyone else in the house said the same.”
In her captivity, Miss Morgan-Davies found escape in literature and began to develop a strong sense of right and wrong by reading fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
She said: “I began to see Bala like the dark lord – like Sauron (from Lord of the Rings) or Voldermort (from Harry Potter). It was inspiring, because in those books you have an all-powerful lord but you have characters like Harry and the Hobbit who find the strength to fight them and ultimately destroy them.”
She also came to develop a mental picture of Yorkshire from The Secret Garden and the works of the Bronte sisters.
“The Secret Garden was one of the books I was allowed to read. It mentioned the Yorkshire accent and I liked that idea.
“I wish my accent sounds like that. I want to sound like a good Yorkshire person. I read the Bronte books, because Bala’s wife liked them and they were wonderful.”
However, her prison-like conditions became even stricter when it was discovered that she had a fledgling friendship with a neighbour.
In a diary entry from 2008 she wrote: “My father is so intransigent, he just tightens the belt more and more – it is downright intolerable now. I wish that things could change for the better – or that I could die.”
Miss Morgan-Davies said: “For the last five years I was held literally a prisoner in the house with all the doors and windows locked because a friendship with a neighbour had been discovered.
“This was too much. It was getting beyond what I could endure. I was not well, I was losing lots of weight, I was feeling very ill and very tired.”
With Balakrishnan’s influence over his “comrades” starting to wane, Miss-Morgan Davies started planning with one of the other women in the commune to escape.
Between them they memorised a telephone number they saw on a television news item for a charity which helps victims of trafficking.
On a day when Balakrishnan and his wife were out shopping, they called the number on a mobile phone the woman had managed to buy in secret and were referred to the Leeds-based charity Palm Cove, which finds half-way homes for people fleeing violent circumstances.
On October 25, 2013, the charity’s founders Yvonne Hall and Gerard Stocks accompanied the Metropolitan Police to the south London home where they were living and – while Balakrishnan was out – brought the two women to freedom.
Miss Morgan-Davies said: “It was extremely exciting but scary, but I was at the point where I didn’t care any more because I was dying. Even if it went wrong I wasn’t going to put up with it any more. I would rather die than live like an animal.”
Asked how it felt to finally leave the house, she said: “Wow. This was the best feeling in the world. I couldn’t believe that I was free at last.”
Balakrishnan was subsequently arrested and found guilty last December of false imprisonment and cruelty towards his daughter as well as four counts of raping two others, as well as six of indecent assault and two of assault.
Remarkably, Miss Morgan Davies says she forgives her father.
“If I carry on being angry, I’m allowing him to steal the rest of my life,” she said. “Nelson Mandela said if you hold onto anger and hatred and bitterness you are still in prison.”
Nevertheless, the process of coming to terms with her liberty remains a long and difficult one.
While in some respects she is highly intelligent – her IQ puts her in the top ten per cent nationally – after her escape she lacked fundamental life skills and had to learn basics like the art of crossing the road and using public transport.
She changed her name to Katy by deed poll after being inspired by the Katy Perry song Roar – a song “about a woman finding her voice” – and adopted the maiden names of her mother and grandmother.
She is living in supported accommodation and is studying English and maths at Swarthmore College in Leeds, with ambitions to pursue a degree in psychology or philosophy.
“I love it here,” she said.
One day she says would like to be in the kind of loving relationship that was denied her for too long.
For now, however, merely having her liberty is something to be cherished.
“At the moment that’s enough,” she said.