Four members of a Traveller family in Britain have been found guilty of forcing destitute men into servitude.
Tommy Sr, James John, Patrick, and Josie Connors were convicted of controlling, exploiting, verbally abusing, and beating the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
During the trial, the jury at Luton Crown Court heard that the complainants, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work in the Connors’ block paving business.
The 13-week trial heard that the men were allegedly given next to no food, forced to wash in cold water, and paid little or no money for working up to 19 hours a day, six days a week.
Josie Connors, aged 31, and her husband James John, aged 34, were convicted of two counts of holding a person in servitude and two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
James John was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and cleared of additional counts of holding a person in servitude and requiring a person to perform forced labour. The jury failed to reach a verdict on a battery charge.
Tommy Sr, aged 52, was convicted of one servitude charge and one false labour charge, as well as one of assault causing actual bodily harm (ABH).
The jury failed to reach verdicts in seven counts and cleared him of one charge of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude.
Patrick, aged 20, was convicted of conspiring to hold a person in servitude, as well as false labour and ABH charges. He was cleared of two other counts but the jury failed to reach a verdict on seven others.
The jury failed to reach verdicts on counts regarding Tommy Jr, aged 27, Johnny, aged 28, and James Connors, aged 24, after deliberating for nearly 39 hours. It cleared them all of several other counts.
Living in caravans and sheds deemed unfit for human habitation, prosecutors said the men spent Sundays doing further work by way of door-to-door selling. Some were alcoholics, drug addicts, or had previously been in trouble with the law, and were picked up off the streets, at soup kitchens, or in homeless centres.
One allegedly told police he had been warned he would be “murdered” if he tried to leave, the trial was told. Another said the caravan site was like a “concentration camp”.
Most of the workers sooner or later managed to escape but remained fearful of being “recaptured”, the jury heard.
The alleged crimes came to light last year after police raided the Greenacres caravan site on Sept 11.
The Connors were charged with offences related to servitude and forced labour under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
The court was previously told that one destitute man was plucked from the streets by the Connors family, forced to work as a “slave” and “mentally tortured”.
The man was living in a hotel early last year when he was stopped by two Travellers outside a Greggs bakery in Wembley, north-west London, and offered an £80-a-day (€100) job, he said.
He agreed as it sounded like “good money” but was taken to a Traveller site, coerced into performing hard labour and never paid a penny, he claimed.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told police that Connors family members had snatched his benefit money from him and forced him to perform hard manual labour for up to 16 hours a day, unpaid.
“It was not an easy job and was making my back hurt every day,” he told officers in his police interview which was played to the court. “I didn’t like it but they said I couldn’t leave and said if I tried to leave… I would get murdered.”
He described being “kicked in the nuts” on one occasion and on another day being punched in the eye for not finding any work, forced into the boot of the family’s car and ordered to sing How Much is that Doggie in the Window and Bob The Builder.
On a third occasion he was given a black eye for not cleaning the bathroom, he said. “I was basically being mentally tortured.
“They treated me like a slave. I felt worse than a slave.”
The alleged victim told police: “Jim [James John] and Josie got workers off the street. They looked for beggars and made slaves out of them, made them work. They said they would give them money and they didn’t.”
Many left, he said, but he stayed on, too frightened to run away. In contrast, his bosses lived on site in a mobile home he called “a grand palace” and owned “expensive perfumes”.
He told police he had no money as the family had taken about £400 in sickness benefit he was receiving for his depression.
After about six months of working for them, the man finally made his bid for freedom while out hawking last July, the court heard.
Canvassing on a street in Leighton Buzzard, he seized his opportunity and hid in a garage for about half an hour, he said.
Having ascertained his whereabouts, he called the police and was picked up and taken to safety.
“I just never want to see [the Connors family] again,” he told officers.
Judge Michael Kay told the court he will sentence the four defendants today and a decision will be made about the charges where no verdict was reached.
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