[A] businessman has been convicted of keeping a group of men as slaves – after he made them work 90-hour weeks in return for takeaway food and alcohol.
Landlord Hargit Singh Bariana, 46, targeted vulnerable men who were left without homes due to alcoholism and drug addiction.
The victims were all white British men – which the lead investigator said should challenge peoples’ perceptions of these types of cases which have previously predominantly seen victims trafficked from abroad.
Bariana provided the men with accommodation, took all their housing benefit as payment and forced them to work.
They were made to clean sewage pipes by hand and work 13-hour days in their bare feet.
They did not receive a wage. Instead they were offered takeaway food and alcohol.
Bariana would rely on their addictions and lack of accommodation to force them to work. If the victims refused he would then resort to violence and intimidation.
It wasn’t until officers raided a property in the town linked to anti-social behaviour and drug use that police uncovered the offences.
They found a number of men living in horrendous conditions who were initially too terrified to speak about their ordeal.
When they did disclose the whole story to police, Bariana was arrested and later charged with eight offences under the Modern Day Slavery Act.
Bariana, of Blue House Farm, Netherton, Bedlington, was charged with eight counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between 2009 and 2015.
And at Newcastle Crown Court today (16 May) he was found guilty by a jury of six of those offences. He was also convicted of being concerned in the supply of Diazepam.
Bariana was found not guilty of two of the force labour charges and also acquitted on a single count of robbery.
He was remanded into custody by a judge and will be sentenced on the week commencing June 18 at the same court.
Following the conviction, Chief Inspector Helena Barron said: “Hargit Bariana preyed on vulnerable victims for his own gain.
“He relied on the fact that they were homeless with addictions to keep them under his control.
“If they did not work then they feared they would lose their home and be unable to feed their addictions.
“Previous slavery cases have highlighted the trafficking of vulnerable victims from abroad to work in this country. However, in this case all of the victims were white British men – which challenges people’s perception of this type of crime and highlights the fact anyone could find themselves subject to such offences.
“It is a lesson for everyone that a victim of modern day slavery can come from any walk of life and any background.
“Our message is that if something doesn’t look right then it probably isn’t right and we would encourage people to contact the police.
“Often people don’t realise they are victims of slavery – so it is important in order to tackle this type of crime that we encourage local communities to stay vigilant and alert.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the victims in this case who have shown great bravery.
“I would also like to recognise the hard work of our officers on this case, and for their continued efforts to target offenders benefiting at the expense of others.
“Under the banner of Sanctuary, protecting those who find themselves vulnerable through a whole range of crimes including modern day slavery, is Northumbria Police’s number one priority.”
Anyone who thinks they are a victim or any members of the public who have concerns about modern day slavery happening near them should ring police on 101 or call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.