Hargit Bariana kept addicts as slaves and forced them to work in takeaways in Blyth and Sunderland
Hiding in plain sight, Hargit Bariana kept local addicts as slaves in a North East town for years before his appalling crimes were exposed.
Customers of the vile takeaway boss’ businesses would have had no idea that they were being served food cooked by vulnerable men who were being forced to work without payment and to live in appalling conditions.
Bariana’s shocking offending was only uncovered when what at first seemed like simple complaints about anti-social behaviour made to local bobbies sparked a police investigation that would eventually see the manipulative landlord found guilty of some of the most serious crimes imaginable.
A jury at Newcastle Crown Court found him guilty of six offences of requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Bariana was also found guilty of one charge of supplying drugs, but cleared of robbery.
His co-accused, Denise Lillico, 51, from Newcastle, was found not guilty of supplying a class C drug.
Now, a top police officer has revealed how Bariana, the seemingly legitimate business owner, was exposed as a cruel slave master.
And Chief Inspector Helena Barron, of Northumbria Police, is also warning the public that modern day slavery could be going on in their own neighbourhoods, and urging communities to look out for the signs.
She said: “Modern day slavery is one of the most heinous of offences. When you think of slavery you think of people being trafficked from outside the country. But these victims were people from the local area, they are British born, local to the North East, vulnerable males. This was very local to Blyth and it could happen in any community. This can happen to anyone.”
Newcastle Crown Court heard how Bariana, who was known locally Harry, targeted men with addictions or who were homeless, in Blyth.
After gaining control over them he put them to work in his takeaways, in Blyth and Sunderland, and sometimes fed them leftovers at the end of the day.
The jury also heard how he would give them a place to sleep in a cramped multi-occupancy house in Blyth and supply them with alcohol and diazepam.
It was also claimed he removed shoes and clothes from some of the victims on occasions at night to prevent them “doing off”.
Jurors were also told Bariana, who ran Antonio’s takeaway on Plessey Road, Blyth, and another takeaway on Olive Street, Sunderland, did not make any returns to the Inland Revenue between 2011 and 2016 and did not keep paper records of who worked for him.
However, Bariana’s crimes were so hidden and his cover so plausible that it wasn’t until police began investigating reports of anti-social behaviour around his Blyth takeaway, in 2015, that he came to the attention of officers.
Chief Insp Barron, who heads up neighbourhood policing in Northumberland and North Tyneside, explained her officers initially began investigating low level bother in the area.
But after a series of drugs raids they discovered the inhumane conditions the men were living in and began to suspect that much more serious crimes were being committed.
The local officers then worked hard to gain the trust of the troubled men and encourage them to tell them what had been going in.
And as the case progressed they were able to support the victims to give evidence in court.
“It was November 2015. We executed a number of drugs warrants and as a result of this we identified there were a number of male victims of modern day slavery. We certainly weren’t expecting to find that,” she explained.
“The neighbourhood team established a good relationship with some of the people in the address and they started disclosing they were being forced to work and it evolved from there.
“It was a neighbourhood operation from the start. To me this is neighbourhood policing at it’s best. The community came forward, they raised concerns about drug use and anti-social behaviour and these victims were part of that community. I’m extremely proud that the neighbourhood officers managed to build the trust and confidence of these victims over a period of time.
“The Modern Day Slavery Act only came into force in the summer of 2015. It was relatively new legislation. It was hard to know quite what we were being faced with, but the key thing was getting the victims to speak to us and tell us what’s been happening to them.”
Chief Insp Barron believes Bariana deliberately selected vulnerable victims he could coerce and control, and mistakenly believed they would never be able to help police bring them to justice.
“They did have a number of vulnerabilities. They were homeless and they had addictions and he clearly exploited the fact that these people were vulnerable and he thought; ‘no-one is going to believe these people’,” she said. “He’s a despicable member of the community. It’s appalling that a member of the community would treat other human beings like that.
“He’s targeted vulnerable people to exploit them and to gain control over them for his own benefit over a number of years. He’s really preyed on their vulnerabilities. They were under his control. When you are hungry and you have addictions and someone is feeding your addictions and giving you food and threatening violence against you, you do what you are told.”
Chief Insp Barron believes Bariana may have got away with his crimes for so long because the public do not imagine that local people in the North East could be being kept as slaves.
And she is now urging everyone to be more open minded about where this crime could exist.
“As far as anyone was aware these were local people working in a local business, and there was no reason to suggest otherwise,” she said.
“But if anyone has any concerns at all about anyone we would urge them to report it to us. This is an example of how modern day slavery can exist in a community like this. It’s not always a case of big trafficking operations and it’s not always sexual exploitation.”
“Modern day slavery is not the remit of one particular type of business. It could be going on in any small business. We really want the community to be aware that this can happen and report anything of concern at all to the police.”
Chief Insp Barron has also praised the victims for their bravery, and urged anyone else that may be suffering to trust police and get help.
“I think it’s testament to the hard work of the officers that these victims have been willing to stand-up in court and trust the police,” she said.
“They have come to court and faced the offender. I think it’s incredibly brave and the victims should be immensely proud of themselves. We have supported them throughout the process and we will continue to support them with partner agencies.
“All victims will be believed and will be supported. Nothing precludes them from speaking to the police. It’s irrelevant what their background is or whether they have got convictions or not, they are victims regardless and we will help any victim of crime. They can trust us.”