Traveller family 'assaulted man as he was forced to work for £10 per day' for 18 years


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A man described today how he was punched, kicked, hit with a broom and a rake, forced to forage in bins for food and clothes and hosed down with freezing water during nearly two decades living with a traveller family.

Alexander Gourlay, 54, said he was forced to live in caravans or packed into sheds with other men during his 18 years of servitude to the Connors.

He told Bristol Crown Court how he would have to forage in bins at supermarkets for clothing and food and use a bucket or woodland for a toilet.

Mr Gourlay also described how he was attacked if he did anything wrong and witnessed other members of the "serf" workforce being assaulted by the "bosses".

William Connors, 52, his wife Mary, 48, their sons John, 29, and James, 20, and their son-in-law Miles Connors, 23, deny charges of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to carry out forced or compulsory labour.

Mr Gourlay told the court how he would be taken by members of the Gloucestershire-based Connors family to different traveller sites around the country to work for as little as £10 a day.

On one occasion, in London, a householder was not happy with the standard of work to his block paving driveway, so William Connors, known as Billy, beat Mr Gourlay.

"He waited until the owner had gone back in the house and he started punching me and he used a wooden rake on me," Mr Gourlay said.

"I got cuts to prove it. The other workmen watched him do it to me."

Christopher Quinlan QC, prosecuting, asked Mr Gourlay what William Connors hit him with.

"There was a wooden rake, sometimes a broom and sometimes a fist," he replied.

Mr Gourlay, who was giving his evidence to the jury via videolink, said James Connors, known as Jimmy, also hit him with his fists and kicked him.

"He slapped me around the face a couple of times and I also got kicked in the knees," he added.

Mr Gourlay said he also saw one worker called Craig Sivier being hit with a shovel by James Connors.

"Jimmy picked up a spade and whacked him around the head with it - quite a few times," he said. "I saw it with my own two eyes."

Mr Quinlan asked him why he never retaliated and he told jurors: "I don't know. Probably too scared to."

Mr Gourlay said another worker, called Tim Howley, was hit by William Connors for taking food from dustbins.

"Billy would always use the handle of a broom, or something he picked up, and started whacking him with it," he said.

"Every time he did something wrong, or had been shouted at, Billy beat him with a broom, his fists or hands or something he would pick up."

Mr Gourlay had been recruited by William Connors from a homeless shelter in Birmingham.

He first lived in a caravan in Kings Norton, Birmingham, before moving to Oxford and later Bristol.

In Bristol, Mr Gourlay lived with two other men in a shed and they made makeshift beds out of milk crates and mattresses.

"There wasn't enough room to swing a cat in it. There was no lighting at all. Just concrete floor," he said.

When the Connors family went on holiday, including trips to Dubai, Cancun in Mexico and Tenerife, they would leave the workers with just £40 to buy food for a week.

If the workers ran out, they would scavenge from the bins for out-of-date bread, pasties, cakes and meat at a shop near their caravan site in Staverton, Gloucestershire, Mr Gourlay said.

"Because the bosses would not be back we had no money to buy food," he told jurors. "We found out where there were bins where we could get food from."

The court also heard how Mr Gourlay taught members of William and Mary Connor's children to swim, including Jimmy, who when he was older became a "boss" and would beat him.

Mr Gourlay's ordeal ended when police carried out a series of raids on traveller sites in March last year and he was found in a caravan in Kirk Lane, Enderby, Leicestershire.

The court heard that police inquiries later discovered that a bungalow in Staverton was owned jointly in name and that of John Connor's wife Barbara.

"What's going to happen to that by the way?," he asked Mr Quinlan.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.