Family jailed over forced labour
Five members of an Irish Traveller family who led a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable men whom they forced to work for a pittance have been jailed today by a judge at Bristol Crown Court.
William Connors (52) was jailed for six and a half years and his wife Mary (48) received a sentence of two years and three months.
The couple’s son, John (29), was jailed for four years. Their other son, James (20), got three years' detention in a young offender institution.
Son-in-law Miles Connors (24), received a three-year prison sentence.
They were all convicted last week at Bristol Crown Court of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 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.
Passing sentence today, Judge Longman said: “What each of the workers had in common was that, when they first met the Connors, they were unemployed and addicted to alcohol.
“Most were homeless, relying on hostels or night shelters at best for their accommodation. Some suffered from mental health difficulties. All were vulnerable in some way and it was this vulnerability which was exploited by the defendants for their own commercial gain.”
The prosecution was brought under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The Connors enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays. To help finance their lifestyle, the family picked up men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers.
The victims lived in squalid caravans on halting sites as they moved around the country working in the Connors’ paving and patio businesses. Some were 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 through discipline and violence.
Some of the men - called “dossers” by the Connors family members - 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 offenders.
The men were paid as little as £5 for a day’s hard labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands pounds. They were given so little food that they resorted to scavenging from rubbish bins at supermarkets.
In contrast, the Connors lived in large caravans fitted with luxury kitchens and flat-screen televisions.
William and Mary, known as Billy and Brida, enjoyed exotic holidays, including to Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean on the Cunard flagship liner Queen Mary 2. The family also spent the spoils of their enterprise on breaks to Tenerife and Cancun in Mexico.
As well as holidays, they drove cars including a silver A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls-Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick-up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van, and had built up a mounting property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds. Their bank accounts contained more than £500,000.