Travellers jailed for forced labour received €535k legal aid

A family of millionaire Travellers jailed for forcing vulnerable men to work for a pittance have been given over £460,000 (€535,000) in legal aid.

The Gloucestershire-based Connors family lived the high life at the expense of homeless drug addicts and alcoholics.

William Connors, aged 52; wife Mary, aged 48; their sons, John, aged 29; and James, aged 20; and son-in-law Miles Connors, aged 24; were jailed in December after being convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The profits funded a luxury cruise around the Caribbean and exotic holidays to Tenerife and Cancun in Mexico.

As well as holidays, they drove around in top-of-the-range cars, including a Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce, and a Mini convertible, and had built up a property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds.

Several houses — including one with a hot tub and accompanying flat screen television — were registered in the names of relatives.

The family bought two caravan parks in Gloucestershire for £545,000 more than a decade ago and had over £500,000 in bank accounts seized by police.

Despite their apparent wealth, the Connors were still able to claim legal aid.

The Legal Services Commission paid a total of £461,363.68 for lawyers to defend the family during proceedings at Bristol Crown Court. The bill was run up during legal proceedings that included a three-month trial.

Each of the Connors was defended by a senior barrister, who was assisted by junior counsel.

The figures were revealed after a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association.

A Legal Services Commission spokesman said: “We manage costs carefully and legal aid rates are considerably less than those paid to lawyers in privately funded cases.

“Trials can cost a lot of money if they last many weeks, are very complex and have thousands of pages of evidence.

“The law says that anyone facing a Crown Court trial for a serious criminal offence can apply for legal aid to ensure they have a lawyer, but funding is subject to a means test which could require them to pay towards their defence.”

The Legal Services Commission could claw back the money if it is found the Connors have assets of over £30,000.

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