Family found guilty of forced labour
Five members of the same Irish Traveller family have been found guilty in a court in Britain of keeping their own private workforce.
William Connors (52) his wife Mary (48), their sons John (29), and James (20), and their son-in-law Miles Connors (24), were all convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011.
A jury at Bristol Crown Court found the Connors family guilty following a three-month trial.
They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude but Judge Michael Longman ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence.
He said he would hear mitigation this afternoon and would pass sentence on Monday.
The prosecution was brought under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
During the trial, the court heard that the Connors would pick up the men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers.
The victims lived in squalid caravans on Traveller sites as they moved around the country working on the Connors’ paving and patio businesses.
Some were also ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying the buckets used as toilets by their bosses. Their work was monotonous, arduous and unrelenting, and they were controlled by discipline and violence.
Some of the men - called “dossers” by the Connors - had worked for the family for nearly two decades.
Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.
On another occasion one worker had a hosepipe shoved down his throat and the men were often made to strip for a “hosing down session” with freezing water.
“It caused fear in the men,” said prosecutor Christopher Quinlan QC.
“Not just themselves being assaulted, but to see the others - if you see one of your colleagues being beaten, you knew what to expect.
“It was a clear and unequivocal demonstration of control and dominance, of one set, the family, over another.
“If you compare and contrast the lifestyles of the workers and bosses it is like comparing a Maserati versus a clapped out Zephyr.” The court heard the men were paid as little as £5 (€6.10) for a day’s hard labour on jobs that would earn the family thousands of pounds.
They were given so little food they resorted to scavenging from dustbins at supermarkets for something to eat. The men also salvaged clothing from bins and used a bucket or woodland as a toilet.
“The defendants benefited financially and we say handsomely in their legal exploits and enterprise," Mr Quinlan told the jury during the trial. "The men were forced to work and exploited for financial gain and the defendants had a very cheap labour workforce for their businesses.
“They were a private workforce at the beck and call of the defendants.”
William Connors, who used a string of aliases, was the head of the family and had been married to Mary for over 30 years and they had six children together - four daughters and two boys.
Police began investigating the Connors following the discovery of the body of worker Christopher Nicholls (40). He had been involved in a serious road crash in October 2004 outside Willowdene and his body was discovered in a garden shed near the caravan site in May 2008.
In 2009, one unnamed worker contacted Gloucestershire Police to say William and Mary Connors had recruited him from the streets of Cheltenham.
He told detectives he had his identity documents taken from him and he was rarely paid and received little food and lived with other workers in the same situation.
The Connors maintained the men were “free agents” able to come and go as they please and William and Mary suggested they acted as “good Samaritans’ providing them with food, work and accommodation.
The introduction of the Coroners and Justice Act in April 2010 created offences of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to carry out forced or compulsory labour.
The Connors were placed under covert surveillance in August 2010 and police recorded evidence of the men being assaulted.
Police raided sites in Staverton, Enderby and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire on March 22nd, 2011.
They rescued 19 men, including Alexander Gourlay (55), who told jurors how he witnessed William Connors hit one of the men for taking food from dustbins.