The Guardian

Trafficked, beaten, enslaved: the life of a Vietnamese cannabis farmer

At 10, ‘Stephen’ was taken from Hanoi to London and then spent four years tending plants for a brutal drug gang. Now awaiting news of an appeal against deportation, he recalls his horrific experience – and his lucky escape
Stephen (not his real name) has been told by the Home Office that he must go back to Vietnam, but he fears being trafficked again. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Anyone who thinks the business of cannabis cultivation in the UK is a friendly, hippyish occupation, imbued with wholesome organic principles, needs to reflect on the experience of Stephen, a vulnerable Vietnamese orphan who was 10 when he was trafficked to the UK to work as an enslaved cannabis farmer.

Stephen arrived in Britain in the back of a freezer lorry, after a long journey on foot and in trucks from Hanoi, where he had been destitute and homeless. In Britain, he was locked up alone in a series of terraced houses that had been converted into cannabis farms, and forced over the course of four years to work as a cannabis gardener by the Vietnamese gang that had smuggled him here.

In many ways, his unhappy childhood has taken a very positive turn. At 16, Stephen was arrested during a drugs raid and police recognised him as a victim of trafficking. He was taken into foster care by a vicar in County Durham, where he has learned fluent English and taught himself to cook by watching YouTube videos. He hopes to become a

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Guardian

The Guardian3 min readScience
UK Gardeners Given Tips To Avoid Wildfires As Climate Crisis Raises Risk
Scores of wildfires mean 2019 has already broken the record set during last year’s heatwave
The Guardian4 min readWellness
‘I Can Change It For Others’: The Woman Who Exposed Irish Smear Tests Scandal
If a test in 2011 had been accurate, Vicky Phelan might have avoided cancer. Now she is trying to give some hope to terminal patients
The Guardian4 min read
Love Island Is A Lesson In How Language, Like, Evolves | David Shariatmadari
The contestants’ heavy use of ‘like’ has raised hackles. But they shouldn’t be demonised for it