Belfast Telegraph

If we're to prevent another slave trade house of horrors like that in Co Armagh, we need to start being nosy neighbours

By Lindy McDowell

Portadown isn't a place that automatically springs to mind when you mention the words "slave trade." Co Armagh - it's not exactly 19th century Alabama, is it?

But a court here has heard the shocking story of how 15 people were imprisoned in a three-bedroom house in the Portadown area, forced to work endless hours without pay, treated like dogs and denied proper food.

When some of them managed to escape and make their way to a police station, officers who went to the property to rescue the others had to call a doctor right away to give one person emergency treatment. A number of people in the house had to be fed before they could even be moved.

It sounds like a scene from a horror movie. But this was happening in our midst. In Mid-Ulster, a place where traditionally people kept an eye on - and an eye out for - their neighbours.

Yet somehow, Romanian gangmaster, Ioan Lacatus, a brute with previous convictions for people-trafficking, had managed to run his local slave business without interference or questions being asked.

The court was told how some of the unfortunate souls he kept prisoner worked 70 hours a week. They never saw their wages which were paid into accounts that Lacatus had set up. He'd also confiscated their passports.

They were given only tiny amounts of cold food and, when some complained they were starving, he told them they could eat stones. Living conditions within that cramped house with its single toilet and shower don't even bear imagining.

How could this happen in our midst? How many more such hell-holes are there out there?

Short answer to that first question - we are no longer the inquiring, some might call it nosy, neighbours of a generation ago. People lead busy lives. What others get up to down the street or even next door is not our concern.

But the full answer is, of course, a bit more complex than that.

In recent years we've become used to the sight of what officialdom neatly calls Houses of Multiple Occupancy sometimes packed to the gills with migrant workers.

Not so much multiple occupancy as a multitude in occupancy.

Yet to question this - to wonder aloud about the conditions those people might be living in, and what's really going on there - is to risk being labelled "racist". You're anti-migrant. A Brexit bigot.

So people keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

But the result of turning a blind eye like this is to allow thugs and gangsters to abuse poor people, to confine them in the most appalling squalor, to live off their earnings and treat them like little more than livestock.

If these were local people being ill-treated in this way there would be uproar. If it was our sons and daughters...

Yet those people taken from that house of horror in Co Armagh were somebody's sons and daughters.

It isn't racist to demand that they, that all migrant workers, should be treated with the same respect as the rest of us, or to ask questions about the number of people being shoe-horned into one small house, or to raise concerns about their welfare.

How many more houses are there, out there, like that one in the Portadown area?

Most of us would hazard a guess that there are likely to be a few.

There's rightly been unanimous condemnation this week of those schoolboy yobs hurling stones and abuse at one brave Romanian girl in Antrim. But not all abusers are quite so overt in their tactics.

The gangmasters rely on the rest of us keeping our noses out to ensure the continuation of their vile slave trade in the 21st century. They think they can get away with it.

If the rest of us don't ask questions, they will.

Robbery shocking insight of real life for Kim

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian has made her name and her fortune, flaunting her baubles, her body and her private life on regular social media update.

Sadly among those obviously paying attention was the gang who held her at gunpoint.

Fortunately, Kim wasn’t physically hurt.

Even so, after the frightening robbery in Paris during which millions of pounds worth of jewellery was stolen, Kim’s world will no longer seem quite so secure, so gilded or so free.

For the fantasy queen, that’s a new, grim reality.

PM should put boot into media’s foot fetish

She may not be the UK’s first female prime minister. But Theresa May leads the field in one respect.

Never before has the country had a leader so defined by footwear. From her leopard-print kitten heels to this week’s steel-toed flatties, no mention of May is complete without reference to her shoes.

For a politician it’s not necessarily a good thing that people are so focused on your feet.

You want people to pay attention to your words when you’re putting the boot in. Not concentrate on the heel height.

Belfast Telegraph


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