Family guilty of forced labour

Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 00:00

Five members of an Irish Traveller family have been convicted in England of demanding forced labour from dozens of homeless men over the past 20 years. Many of the men were forced to work for £1 an hour, badly housed and beaten.

William (Billy) Connors (52), his wife Mary, also known as Breda (48), and sons John (29) and James (20), who live in Staverton in Gloucestershire, along with their son-in-law Miles Connors (24) from Bradford, were convicted by a jury in Bristol yesterday.

They had also been charged with servitude but Judge Michael Longman directed the crown court jury, which had heard the case over three months, to find them not guilty on that charge.

The defendants were each was convicted of one count of forced labour against unknown persons.

Nearly 40 men were recruited from homeless shelters, railway stations and off the streets over the past two decades and then made go door to door offering to pave driveways. In some cases clients were charged £8,000 (€9,800) for a week’s work.

If they failed to work hard enough, or if they tried to leave, the men were beaten. Often they were forced to work without food or breaks and were left without warm clothing in freezing conditions, police told the court.

The family lived in luxury homes worth more than £1 million (€1.23 million) in some cases, bought over the past decade. They enjoyed family holidays in the Canary Islands, Dubai and Mexico.

Det Chief Insp David Sellwood said the investigation – under legislation enacted in 2010 – had been difficult because many of the victims had been institutionalised and did not believe they were victims.