Sunderland takeaway boss jailed for cruelly exploiting vulnerable men he kept as slaves
A "unscrupulous" Sunderland takeaway boss who kept vulnerable men as slaves and gave them leftover food in return for hard work has been jailed for eight-and-half years.
Harjit Bariana's tenants at a multi-occupancy maisonette paid their rent through housing benefit but were also expected to work for him for free.
Bariana, who was known as Harry, was owner of chip shops in Sunderland and Blyth.
Newcastle Crown Court heard some of the men, who were mostly drink or alcohol dependent, would be threatened or beaten if they did not comply.
During the 46-year-old's trial last month, the jury heard how he would expect his tenants to prepare food and hand out leaflets for the food outlets.
They were also forced into more heavy work such as clearing drains.
One man was made to walk a mile barefoot.
The man told the court he himself was given "basically leftovers" after long and hard days at work.
Bariana, of Netherton, near Rothbury, Northumberland, was convicted of six offences of requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour, in relation to four men, and one of being concerned in the supply of diazepam .
He was cleared of two of the slavery charges.
Bariana, who ran Valentinos takeaway, in Sunderland, was also found not guilty of one count of robbery of one of his victims' cash and phone.
He appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on Monday morning via video link from prison to be sentenced by Judge Sarah Mallett.
Tom Finch, defending, told the court: "This is not a case that falls within the bracket of seven or eight years.
"This is not one of the most serious offences."
Judge Mallett dismissed Mr Finch's claim that there was no element of greed.
The judge told Bariana: "This is in my view a commercial exploration.
"Your business model was predicated on free labour and most minimal expenditure to extract the maximum profit.
"You exploited their vulnerability by way of addiction to alcohol and on occasions drugs."
Judge Mallett said she had taken into account that the offences were committed over weeks or months rather than years and direct violence was used on limited occasions.
She told Bariana: "These offences are so serious only a custodial sentence can be justified."
Afterwards, Heather Wilkinson of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Harjit Bariana targeted desperate and destitute men, providing low quality housing for them.
"He received housing benefit for this, but then told the men that they were also expected to work for him to pay entirely fictional debts.
“The men were then forced to work at Bariana’s two restaurants through a combination of threats, beatings and the supply of drugs and alcohol.
"He would even remove shoes and clothing from the cramped maisonette in which the men were housed, to prevent them leaving their accommodation in the evening.
“The CPS presented detailed evidence to the court showing the extent of Bariana’s offending.
"I would like to praise the bravery of the victims and witnesses in this case, whose evidence was key to securing the conviction against Harjit Bariana.
"I would hope that his sentence today provides a good measure of comfort to those he cruelly exploited for his selfish financial gain.”