Slavery Trial Ends With Jail Terms

7 May 2013, 16:14 | Updated: 8 May 2013, 12:27

The head of a family of Irish travellers and his son were jailed for a total of 13 years for keeping two vulnerable men captive and forcing them to work for no wages.

The head of a family of Irish travellers and his son were jailed for a total of 13 years on Tuesday 7 May 2013 for keeping two vulnerable men captive and forcing them to work for no wages.

Tommy Connors snr, 53, who was known as 'Lyncham' was said to have driven the workers that he recruited like 'slaves' and, in the process, made huge amounts of money.

At the end of a month long trial, he was jailed for 8 years and his son Patrick Connors, 21, was jailed for 5 years.

A jury failed to reach verdicts on his two other sons, Tommy Junior, 27, James, 25, and the prosecution formally offered no evidence against them.

Passing sentence on the father, Judge Michael Kay said he had targeted the men who were "homeless or addicted and isolated" who he knew he could exploit.

Men, often out of work and homeless, even alcoholics, would be recruited at soup kitchens and off the street with the promise of paid work, food and lodgings.

"It was a monstrous and callous deceit" he told the father.

The judge said over the years, hundreds of vulnerable workers had been recruited by Connors and would have been subject to threats of violence and intimidation if they wanted to leave.

Many had managed to flee once they realised they had been duped by Connors, but the judge said a small number had been so degraded and manipulated by him they had not been able to summon the courage to take matters into their own hands and run away.

The judge acknowledged that for Patrick Connors, keeping vulnerable workers and exploiting them had been a way of life he had been born into.

"You thought this was a normal way of life," he told him, adding that he had also dished out assaults when he was in a bad mood or unhappy with workers.

During the trial at Luton crown court, the jury heard that after going off with the family, recruited workers were held in 'Spartan' conditions on a Bedfordshire travellers site where married Connors and his sons and their families all lived in luxury.

The workers were immediately put to work doing back breaking block paving work and laying tarmac and gravel, but weren't paid and, with the constant threat of violence, not allowed to leave.

Their heads would be shaved and food often consisted of biscuits, pot noodles, cheese, soup, bacon beans and eggs.

Workers were forced to live in a horsebox, others in shabby and cold caravans and sheds.

The only washing facilities were a cold water tap in the yard and a toilet shared between them all.

They would be driven to a service station or leisure centre for a shower once a week.

In September 2011 Bedfordshire Police mounted a carefully co-ordinated raid on the Greenacres Travellers site near Leighton Buzzard to free 13 'workers' being held against their will by Tommy Connors snr and other family members.

In the father's luxury static home on the site, police found £16,000 in cash. Also found was evidence that he had £130,000 in bank deposits.

The trial heard that over 15 years the father, and more recently his son, had recruited men from homeless centres, soup kitchens and off the street with the offer of paid work, food and accommodation.

Patrick was just 14 when he took control of one vulnerable man brought onto the site with the promise of regular wages and accomodation.

For workers, their time with the Connors meant long days during the week of hard manual labour.

On Saturdays and Sunday duties included cleaning and tidying the yard at the Greenacres site or being taken out to go canvassing for work to lay driveways.

One worker was to tell police "It was like being an animal in a cage. The animal tended to fly about, then automatically go back to the cage because it was used to it. There was always something, 'Clean the cars, clean the yard. ' There was never a good day. The travellers used to say: 'No pain no gain'."

The man said washing facilities consisted of a tap in the yard. There was no toilet paper provided, so he made a habit of taking it from McDonalds.

At one time he slept in a horse box with 11 bunks and at other times he had been housed in a caravan.

Another man was to tell the police that being freed after 7 years, felt like winning the lottery.

Mr Ben Gumpert prosecuting at the trial said: "It is clear, if the prosecution case is well founded, that over the years there have been dozens, perhaps over a hundred, workers who have been recruited, whose labour has been exploited and who have been the subject of threats, violence and coercion."

Before the jury retired to consider its verdicts Judge Kay in his summing up to them said "this is not a case which is principally or even significantly about the culture, practices or norms of the Irish travelling community in general. The culture and lifestyle of the travelling community is not on trial here.  This case is about what passed between these particular defendants and those men you have heard from who worked for them."

Tommy Connors snr and his son Patrick were sentenced today for offences they were found guilty of last July of conspiring to hold a person in servitude and conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. The charges involved two different workers and they were also convicted at the time of assaulting them occasioning them actual bodily harm.

Because the jury failed to agree on further charges they were not sentenced until a retrial had been held.

That trial started earlier this year with the father, his son Patrick and his two other sons,  Tommy Jnr and James all pleading not guilty to three charges of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and three of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour.

The jury retired to consider the verdicts last week, but today announced they were unable to reach verdicts on any of the charges against the four.

That meant the father and Patrick Connors could at last be sentenced for the offences they had been convicted of last summer.

At the end of the first trial last year, the daughter of Tommy Connors snr and her husband were jailed after being convicted by a jury of keeping vulnerable men in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour

Travellers James John Connors, 34, and Josie Connors, 31, were convicted of two counts each of keeping people in servitude at the Greenacres site. and jailed for 11 years and four years respectively.

James John Connors, known as "Big Jim" was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Sentencing them at Luton Crown Court, Judge Michael Kay QC said: "The way they brutally manipulated and exploited men is pure evil. 'Their disdain for the dignity of others is shocking. They were not Good Samaritans but violent, cold, hard exploiters."

South West Bedfordshire's MP has welcomed the strong deterrent effect of the further sentences passed at Luton Crown Court today on those responsible for enslaving vulnerable victims into forced labour.

Andrew Selous, who is also part of the Parliamentary Group which combats modern slavery told Heart: "The way mainly British victims were treated in my constituency was modern slavery and  I congratulate Bedfordshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for achieving these sentences today.  I hope they serve as a message that the UK will not tolerate modern slavery and will ruthlessly pursue those responsible for it."