William Connors, 52, was jailed for six and a half years and his wife Mary, 48, received a sentence of two years and three months.
The couple’s son, John, 29, was jailed for four years. Their other son James, 20, got three years detention in a young offenders institution. Son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, received a three-year prison sentence.
They were all convicted last week at Bristol Crown Court of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial.
They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude but the trial judge Michael Longman ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence. The prosecution was brought under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The Connors enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays and, to live the high life, the family picked up men — often homeless drifters or addicts — to work for them as labourers.
The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites as they moved around the country working in the Connors’ paving and patio businesses. Some were also ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying the buckets used as toilets by their bosses.
Some of the men — called “dossers” by the Connors — had worked for the family for nearly two decades. Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors. The men were paid as little as £5 (€6) for a day’s hard labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands.
In contrast, the Connors grew fat on the spoils of their hard labour and lived in large and well-appointed caravans fitted with luxury kitchens and flat-screen televisions. Their bank accounts contained more than £500,000.
Passing sentence, Judge Longman said: “What each of the workers had in common was that, when they first met the Connors, they were unemployed and addicted to alcohol. Most were homeless, relying on hostels or night shelters at best for their accommodation. Some suffered from mental health difficulties. All were vulnerable in some way and it was this vulnerability which was exploited by the defendants for their own commercial gain.”
The Connors maintained the men were “free agents”, able to come and go as they please and William and Mary suggested they acted as “good Samaritans” by providing them with food, work and accommodation.
Members of the Connors family, who were sat in the public gallery, broke down in tears as the prison sentences were imposed.
The defendants waved at their relatives as they were led away to begin their sentences.