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'Unscrupulous' Sunderland takeaway boss faces jail for slavery offences

Harjit Bariana.
Harjit Bariana.

A "unscrupulous" Sunderland takeaway boss who kept vulnerable men as slaves and gave them leftover food in return for hard work is facing jail.

Harjit Bariana's tenants at a multi-occupancy maisonette in Blyth, Northumberland, paid their rent through housing benefit but were also expected to work for him for free.

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.

Bariana, who was known as Harry, was owner of Antonio's chip shop in Blyth and Valentinos takeaway in Sunderland.

The 46-year-old would expect his tenants to prepare food, hand out leaflets for the food outlets but they were also forced into more heavy work such as clearing drains, jurors heard.

One man was made to walk a mile barefoot.

A victim, who cannot be named, told jurors: "One man got hoyed in the bath. His shoes got taken off him, his belt got taken off him

"He was made to walk a mile to Antonio’s to get his shoes, in bare feet."

The man told the court he himself was given "basically leftovers" after long and hard days at work.

Bariana, of Netherton, 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 was also found not guilty of one count of robbery of one of his victims' cash and phone.

Judge Sarah Mallett warned him there was "no alternative to an immediate custodial sentence".

The judge remanded Bariana in custody until he is sentenced, which will be next month, and refused his lawyers' application for him to be allowed bail in the meantime.

The judge said: "In the light of the evidence we heard about the concerns that the witnesses expressed for potential retribution and in light of what I have said about the likely sentence and other consequences that will flow from that, he will have to be remanded in custody."

Also read: The squalid conditions slave master forced his victims to live in

Bariana's co-accused Denise Lillico, 51, of Byker, Newcastle, was cleared of being concerned in the supply of the class C drug.

Prosecutor Christopher Knox had told the court the vulnerable tenants were "exploited" by Bariana.

He said: "The prosecution case is Bariana was a landlord and owner of at least two retail food businesses and exploited people he knew were vulnerable, in all cases because they were either homeless or near homeless or threatened with

homelessness and in most cases had one or other problems with drugs and or alcohol.

"They were, in particular terms, people at a low ebb, they were able, easily, to be bullied, coerced, forced to do work.

"They were exploited in terms of coercion of one sort or another, bullied, coerced and forced to do work in non-standard circumstances.

"They weren't people who had unions or conditions of work or anything like that."

Mr Knox said the men were "right on the bottom" and "needed the roof he was providing to the extent they could be prevailed upon to do other things for him".

Mr Knox added: "They could be pushed into doing work.

"He did, in some cases, assault them, beat them."

Mr Knox said the men would be given handouts of drink and drugs which they were then told they needed to work to pay for.

He said the men were sometimes given "food at the end of the day that was left over" at the take-away.

The court heard one victim "literally ran away" from the situation he found himself in and another told his probation officer what was happening to him so received local authority help.

Bariana claimed all allegations against him were "untrue".

Prosecutors will now pursue Bariana under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize any assets he may have.