Couple jailed for forced labour offences

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

AN IRISH Traveller couple have been jailed by an English judge for 11 years and four years for holding two homeless men in servitude and demanding forced labour.

James John Connors (35) and his wife, Josie (31), were sentenced yesterday at the end of a 13-week trial at Luton Crown Court.

Two others, Josie Connors’s father, Tommy, and brother Patrick, were convicted alongside them on Wednesday, but their sentencing has been put back.

Sentencing James John Connors, Judge Michael Kay imposed two concurrent seven-year sentences for keeping one victim in servitude and requiring forced labour.

He imposed a concurrent three-year sentence for assaulting this man, who was one of 22 victims discovered and removed by police from the Travellers’ caravan site in Bedfordshire last September. None can be named.

James John Connors received two concurrent four-year sentences for his treatment of another victim, to be served consecutively with the seven-year sentences, bringing his total term to 11 years.

Connors, the judge said, had described himself as a family man: “If that was your concern then it is alarming that you allowed your children to be raised in an atmosphere of intimidation and violence.”

Sentencing Josie Connors, a mother of three, the judge said he was “conscious of the fact that imprisonment will be a particular mental and psychological strain for you”.

“However, my inclination to exercise mercy is tempered by the horrific nature of the crime you have committed,” said the judge, adding that she played “a less significant role” than her husband.

But she had issued “serious threats” to the couple’s two victims to undermine their confidence and free will and had been “content to report” any conduct worthy of punishment to her husband.

One victim, said the judge, had been forced to sing nursery rhymes to her children while he was locked in the boot of a car during a 30-minute journey.

The man had been “abused and threatened” by her and she had warned him that she “would get someone to murder him” if he tried to leave the caravan site.

Josie Connors received two concurrent 2½-year sentences for holding a person in servitude and requiring forced labour and two 1½-year terms for offences against the second victim, to be served consecutively, totalling four years.

Pleading for a reduced sentence, her barrister, Karen Walton, said Josie Connors – who was on bail until her conviction on Wednesday – was not “faring well” in prison.

“She is a Traveller mother, whose main role and communication 24 hours a day has been with her children,” said Ms Walton, who said arrangements had been made for the children’s care.

Because she has a seven-month-old child, Josie Connors should be held in the mother and baby unit in Peterborough Prison, but it cannot guarantee a place for them.

Married for nine years, Josie Connors had “little power” on the caravan site and “did not have the power to be an independent entity”, said Ms Walton.

James John Connors’s barrister, Giles Cockings, said the sentences should not punish conduct that took place before the servitude legislation came into force in April 2010.

However, the judge said the abuses “did not suddenly begin or change on April 6th, 2010. It had been going on for many years and simply continued”.

The Crown Prosecution wants £30,000 compensation to be paid to one of the victims and £11,000 to another, but Mr Cockings said James John Connors had savings of just £11,000.