Couple jailed in slavery case

Thu, Jul 12, 2012, 01:00

An Irish Traveller couple have been jailed for 11 years and 4 years respectively for keeping homeless, vulnerable men in servitude in conditions of 'pure evil', a judge in Luton said this morning.

James John Connors and Josie Connors were sentenced at Luton Crown Court after a 13-week trial which led to their conviction yesterday on charges of holding two men in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour from April 2010, while Mr Connors was convicted of repeatedly beating one of the victims dating back to 2004.

Sentencing, Judge Michael Kay said the couple's victims had been 'brutalised and degraded' at their caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire and left without the capacity to resist.

The victims had their heads shaved, were beaten and left 'starving' on some occasions.

Describing the Connors, the judge said: "They were not Good Samaritans, but violent, cold-hearted exploiters."

The judge said he had heard during the trial that it was the custom of Irish Travellers to recruit homeless men, 'or men of the road, as they call them', to work for them, but Mr Connors had realised that his victims, 'who were homeless, addicted, or alcoholics' were 'a source of free labour' who could be exploited for financial gain.

The victims had been subjected to 'a monstrous and callous deceit' because they had been promised up to £80 a day when they were recruited.

Once at the caravan site, they found that they were not paid, while their personal possessions and documents were removed and they were told to address Mr Connors and his wife as Mam and Dad.

The victims were refused use of toilets at the site and forced to use a neighbouring field, while they were taken irregularly for showers to a leisure centre where 'they walked with their heads down as if in a chain-gang', Judge Kay declared.

Saying that no sentencing guidelines existed for the offence of servitude, which came into law in April 2010, the judge said any inclination that he had 'to show mercy' to Mrs Connors was tempered by his knowledge that she had been abusive towards the victims, ever ready to report alleged breaches of discipline to her husband, who frequently beat the men up.

The judge sentenced Mr Connors to two seven year sentences, to be served concurrently, for servitude and forced in respect of one victim, a three year sentence to be served concurrently, along with a four year sentence for servitude and forced in respect of the second victim.

His wife received a 2.5 year sentence for her offences towards the first victim and a 1.5 year sentence for the treatment of the second.