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Four members of a family of Irish travellers who “brutally manipulated and exploited” homeless men by forcing them into servitude were jailed this month after being convicted at Luton Crown Court.
The workers were treated as “modern day slaves” kept in squalid conditions by Tommy Connors Snr, 52, his son Patrick Connors, 20, his daughter Josie, 31, and her husband James John Connors, 34, the court heard.
Twenty-two men, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were found with broken ribs, scars and wounds during a police raid on Greenacres caravan park in Bedfordshire last year. Some had been living in horse boxes and sheds. One even had scurvy.
During the trial, the jury heard that the men were forced to work in the Connors’ block paving business and 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.
One man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described a life of being treated “like a slave”. He was recruited in 2004, when John James saw him in a “distressed state” in a service station, the judge said.
“He was an alcoholic. In three months he was weaned off alcohol. Your purpose was to put him to work... He lived in a caravan with no toilets or washing facilities, he had to go to the toilet in a nearby field.”
The man had to work from 5am to around 9pm on driveway work and then had to clean the Connors’ caravan to “an immaculate condition”. “He said he was beaten and practically starved, he was punched, kicked and hit with a broom handle,” the judge said.
Another man said he felt “worse than a slave”. He managed to escape and told police the couple took his benefit money from him and forced him to perform hard manual labour for up to 16 hours a day, unpaid.
The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre said that similar criminal enterprises exploiting workers may be operating at other traveller and gipsy sites.
Seven members of the Connors family were on trial but the jury failed to reach verdicts on charges regarding Tommy Jnr, 27, Johnny, 28, and James, 24, after deliberating for nine days.