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'Even if a guard was driving and ran over a child, there would not be real punishment,' she said.

Most inmates at the two camps where she worked were women and children.

One woman was stripped naked, then casually set on fire after annoying a guard during interrogation.

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Lim Hye-jin still shivers at the memory of two brothers who managed to escape briefly from her massive concentration camp in the mountains of North Korea.

Seven family members were killed on the spot in revenge.

Many prisoners are stunted and deformed by hunger and back-breaking labour in freezing forests and deep mines.

Former inmates told me of living in fear of constant beatings, of injured people dumped to die in the snow, of hundreds sealed beneath ground after mining accidents, of rotting corpses piled beside huts, of catching snakes to survive deadly starvation.

Now Lim – who ended up in prison herself after being caught trading in China – has spoken exclusively about her experiences, offering a unique insight into the horrors of North Korea's forced labour camps holding an estimated 200,000 people.