Men were kept as slaves by Travellers, court hears

Men who said they were kept as slaves on a Travellers’ site escaped by jumping into a canal, hiding in a back garden, and confiding in a community service officer, a British jury has heard.

The victims were allegedly held in servitude at the Green Acres site at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, and forced to carry out unpaid work for the Connors family’s block paving business.

There was a rumour that someone was buried in a field next to the site and workers had been warned “if you run away you’ll end up like the person in the field back there”, Luton crown court was told.

Frances Oldham QC alleged the Connors family made large amounts of money by controlling and exploiting vulnerable men. Over 15 years they are said to have kept dozens of victims in camps under orders not to leave. Their heads were shaved, they were paid little or nothing, were verbally abused, and on occasions beaten. One worker described it as being “like a concentration camp”.

Ms Oldham said: “A number of words may spring to mind to describe what was happening. They may not in the strict sense have been slaves, but they were not free men.”

The court heard that on Sept 11 last year the police entered Green Acres where they found 13 male workers who were not part of the extended Connors family.

Seven members of the family, six of who live at the site in Leighton Buzzard, face 20 charges.

They are: Tommy Connors Sr, 52, and his sons Tommy, 26, James, 24, Patrick, 20, and Johnny, 28, who live at The Travellers’ Site, Chiswell Green Lane, St Albans. Also on trial are his daughter Josie, 30, and her husband James John Connors, 34.

Tommy Connors Sr, Tommy Connors, Patrick Connors, and James Connors face six charges of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude. Tommy Connors Sr is also accused of causing actual bodily harm between 1996 and 2011. Patrick Connors is accused of causing actual bodily harm on a man between 2006 and 2011.

Johnny Connors is charged with one count of conspiring to hold a person in servitude and one of conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

James John Connors and Josie Connors are accused of two charges of holding a person in servitude and two of requiring him to perform forced or compulsory labour. James John Connors is also accused of causing that man actual bodily harm between 2004 and 2011. James John Connors is accused of battery on another man between January and Sept 2011.

Ms Oldham told the jury: “The crown’s case is that members of the Connors family — initially father Tommy Sr, and gradually over the past 15 years children Johnny, Jimmy, Josie, Tommy and Patrick, and son-in-law James John — recruited vulnerable adults as workers on the pretence of offering them paid employment, food and accommodation. Typically recruitment would take place at centres for the homeless, soup kitchens or simply on the street. Subsequently these individuals were held at a succession of Travellers’ sites culminating in the Greenacres site and were forced to work for the Connors family without pay.”

The trial continues.

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