Four charged with slavery offences

Mon, Sep 12, 2011, 01:00

Four men, three brothers and their brother-in-law, were charged this evening with slavery offences in Britain.

The men, all from the same family of travellers, were charged with conspiracy to holding a person in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour. They will appear before Luton Magistrates' Court tomorrow morning.

They have been named as as Tommy Connors (30), Patrick Connors (19),  James(Big Jim) Connors (34), and James (Jimmy) Connors (23), all of Greenacres caravan
site, in Great Billington, Leighton Buzzard.

A pregnant woman, arrested along with the men yesterday, was released on police bail earlier today.

She will be questioned further following the birth of her child, which is imminent.

The four men and the woman were arrested yesterday under a slavery act introduced last year. The police operation involved more than 200 police officers, said the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit.

The group of Irish travellers were taken into police custody for questioning following a caravan site raid which resulted in the police rescue of 24 alleged modern-day slaves.

More than 200 officers swooped on the Greenacres travellers’ site in Leighton Buzzard  during the early hours of yesterday morning and found the large group of men living in squalid conditions.

The raid was launched as part of a long-running investigation by Bedfordshire Police which suggested the men were being held against their will in poor conditions at the site, and forced to work for no pay.

Police believe some may have been held for as long as 15 years.

Some of the alleged victims had been recruited at welfare benefit offices, employment exchanges, charity soup kitchens, or at aid organisations helping those suffering from alcoholism or with drug addictions.

“They’re recruited and told if you come here we’ll pay you £80 a day, we’ll look after you, give you board and lodgings. But when they get here, their hair is cut off them, they’re kept, in some cases, in horseboxes, dog kennels and old caravans, made to work for no money, given very, very small amounts of food.

“Some are treated a little bit better, but they were told they could not leave and if they did they would be beaten up and attacked,” said Det Chief Insp Seán O’Neil of the constabulary’s major crimes unit.

Detectives have been investigating the slavery allegations for up to four years, he said, though the constabulary says it struggled to act until new anti-slavery legislation was passed in 2010 and witnesses were prepared to make formal statements.

Last night, the 24 were still receiving medical care, though a number are badly malnourished. One was fouled with excrement when discovered as they slept four to a caravan, while two were freed from a garden shed by police, who raided at 5.30am.

“The men we found at the site were in a poor state of physical health and the conditions they were living in were shockingly filthy and cramped. We believe some of them had been living and working there in a state of virtual slavery, some for just a few weeks and others for up to 15 years,” said Det Chief Insp O’Neil.

Yesterday’s raid followed an approach from a former victim, who alleged he had been held by a gang who repeatedly beat him and threatened him with even worse consequences if he tried to escape.

Privately, police believe that they have made a major breakthrough in an investigation into such activities.

Yesterday's police operation  involved 200 officers, some heavily-armed. Weapons and drugs are alleged to have been found.

Additional reporting: PA