Four members of traveller family convicted in 'slaves' trial

 

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The Independent Online

Four members of a traveller family were today found guilty of forcing destitute men into servitude.

Tommy Senior, 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 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, 31, sobbed in the dock as other members of the family wept in the public gallery as the verdicts were read out.

Connors and her husband James John, 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 Senior, 52, faced 11 counts and was convicted of one servitude charge and one false labour charge, as well as one of 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, 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.

A total of seven members of the family were on trial but the jury failed to reach verdicts on counts regarding Tommy Junior, 27, Johnny, 28, and James Connors, 24, after deliberating for 38 hours and 48 minutes. It cleared them all of several other counts.

The trial, which lasted for 13 weeks, heard men were 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.

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 ever tried to leave, the trial was told.

Another said that living at the caravan site was like being in 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 September 11.

The Connors were charged with offences related to servitude and forced labour under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

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