Four in court on slavery charges

Three brothers and their brother-in-law have appeared in court charged with enslaving four men found at a travellers' site.

James (Jimmy) Connors, 23, Tommy Connors, 27, and Patrick Connors, 19, appeared at Luton Magistrates' Court along with brother-in-law James (Big Jim) Connors, 33.

The charges relate to four alleged victims who were removed from the Greenacres travellers' site in Bedfordshire after a police raid on Sunday.

The charges were brought under section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which came into force last year.

Prosecutor Ben Gumpert made an application to District Judge Leigh Smith that the four victims should not be named in press reports.

Mr Gumpert said James Connors (Big Jim) faces six charges of conspiracy in relation to three victims, all of which were allegedly committed between April last year and August this year.

The other three men each face four charges of conspiracy, two for each in relation to two victims, which are said to have happened between June last year and April this year.

The court heard that many of the alleged victims were required to undertake work such as ground work, block paving, resurfacing and retiling for little or no pay.

They are currently in varying conditions both mentally and physically.

Wives and girlfriends of the quartet burst into tears as the men were brought into the dock, and many continued to sob quietly during the hearing.

The charges followed an investigation by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit and relate to alleged offences against the men at the Greenacres travellers' site in Bedfordshire.

The defendants all live at the site, in Great Billington, Leighton Buzzard.

A heavily pregnant woman who was arrested alongside the men on Sunday morning was released on bail and will be questioned further after the birth of her child, police said.

The four men who, apart from Jimmy Connors are all of a heavy build, spoke in court only to confirm their names, ages and address and to tell the court they understood the charges.

Wearing sweatshirts of varying blue colours, the men frequently looked at their family members and each other as the hearing went on.

They were arrested during an early-morning raid on the caravan site by more than 200 police officers.

The raid followed a long-running investigation by the force which suggested 24 men were being held against their will in squalid conditions at the site, and forced to work for no pay.

The men were taken from the site to a medical centre. Police said they were mostly from English and eastern European backgrounds.

A Bedfordshire police spokesman said nine people had left the medical centre and had "chosen not to support the police investigation".


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