Four Irish Travellers charged with slavery offences

Tue, Sep 13, 2011, 01:00

BRITISH POLICE last night charged four Irish Travellers from the same family with slavery offences, following a raid on Sunday when 200 officers freed 24 men. They had allegedly been held at a Bedfordshire encampment for up to 15 years and forced to work 12-hour days for nothing and live in appalling conditions.

The four: Tommy Connors (30), Patrick Connors (19), James Connors (34), and James Connors (23), all with addresses at the Greenacres caravan site at Little Billington, were charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour. The four will appear in court in Luton today.

A pregnant woman arrested along with the four men has been released on bail, but detectives have warned her that she will be questioned once her child is born. Two others are still being sought.

Last night’s charges, made by the police on the direction of the Crown Prosecution Service, cover just four of the 24 British, Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian men who were taken away by the police after Sunday’s raid. “Police investigations into other offences relating to other potential victims at Greenacres are ongoing,” said Adrian Roberts of the prosecution service.

Nine of the 24 men taken away on Sunday have refused to co-operate with the investigation, while one of them returned to live at the site last night, saying that the police action was “ridiculous”.

Yesterday, Travellers living at the park angrily denied that the men had been slaves, insisting they had paid them £30 a day to work laying tarmac and clearing rubble, and had given them accommodation.

However, the accommodation was appalling, with some of the men living four-to-a-room in crowded, dilapidated caravans, while others had been seen sleeping in horseboxes and kennels by police during weeks of covert surveillance.

The dawn raid took place on Sunday as it was the only day the men were not taken off-site to work. Police say they were forced, instead, to clean the heavily secured caravan park.

It is understood that most of the alleged slaves are suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. One of them came to Greenacres after he was approached by Travellers while he sat on a bridge readying to commit suicide. Police say the men were promised £80 a day for work.

Before 2010 police struggled to prosecute allegations of slavery because they were required to use anti-trafficking laws, assault or charges of false imprisonment – none of them would cover the allegations made against Greenacres.

Under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, a person found guilty of holding someone in domestic servitude could face up to 14 years in jail, while a conviction for forced labour brings a seven-year penalty.

The head of Anti-Slavery International, Aidan McQuade said he believed that up to 3,000 people are enslaved in the United Kingdom at any one time: “I was shocked [by the Greenacres allegations], but I was not surprised,” he said.

Fifteen of the released men continued yesterday to get medical treatment from the Red Cross, though it remains to be seen if they will make formal statements. Police say, however, that they are receiving co-operation.

A successful prosecution will depend on the police being able to prove the men were ill-treated, that their movements were restricted, that they suffered poor accommodation and food and were forcibly isolated from others.