Travellers kept slaves 'in concentration camp'

Four members of same family guilty of forcing destitute people into brutal servitude

The victims were the destitute that society forgot: the addicts, the desperate and the suicidal. Discovered at soup kitchens, benefit offices and wandering the streets, they were put to work by an Irish traveller family under threat of ferocious violence and forced to live in squalor.

In the first quasi-slavery trial in Britain for more than 200 years, four members of one family were yesterday found guilty of servitude and forced labour of some of the country's most vulnerable men in a test case of new legislation designed to protect exploited British workers.

Tommy Connors Snr, 52 – the head of the family – fronted a block-paving business built on the labour of men forced to work for up to 19 hours a day for little or no pay and hardly any food, the trial was told.

While the Connors family lived in a series of lavishly furnished chalets on the Greenacres site in Bedfordshire, the labourers shared squalid converted horseboxes and huts and used a standpipe to clean themselves, Luton Crown Court was told.

One man described the site as a "concentration camp" where the labourers' heads were shaved and they were forced to work despite some suffering debilitating illnesses and broken bones. One man was recruited after being talked out of killing himself from jumping off a bridge at a service station and went on to work for the family for seven years, the court was told.

The 13-week trial heard of brutal tactics employed by the family. One man recounted how he was badly beaten after he dropped a vase worth several thousand pounds while he was cleaning the family chalet.

Connors' oldest daughter, Josie, 31, threatened to break the arms and legs of one man if he used the family's lavatory, the court heard. She wept in the dock yesterday as she was convicted along with her husband James John, 34, – known as Big Jim – of servitude and forced labour. Another member of the family, Patrick, 20, was also convicted of similar charges. They face maximum jail terms of 14 years.

The exploitation came to light after police raided the site in September 2011 and found 23 dirty and emaciated men, one of whom had been there for 15 years. In a series of police interviews, one man told police that he had been warned he would be "murdered" if he ever tried to leave. Most of the workers managed to escape but were fearful of being recaptured, the court heard.

Frances Oldham, QC, for the prosecution, said during the trial: "They were controlled in such a way that in many cases they could not see it. They became conditioned to do what the defendants wanted. The reason for their exploitation was money. They may not in the strict sense have been slaves… but the prosecution say this: they were not free men."

One man told police that one labourer working for the family fell through a garage roof and broke his ankle. But he was forced to carry on working and was prevented from going to hospital, the court heard.

Romana Cacchioli, from Anti-Slavery International, said: "That even physically fit British men can be forced to work under coercion and without pay shows the reality of anyone's susceptibility to modern day slavery."

A total of seven members of the family were on trial but the jury failed to reach verdicts on some counts regarding Tommy Junior, 27, Johnny, 28, and James Connors, 24. It cleared them of other counts. Prosecutors will say today if they will seek a retrial.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders