Luton 'slavery' trial under way

Wed, Apr 18, 2012, 01:00

A family of Travellers forced some of the most vulnerable men in society to work for them on a site “like a concentration camp”, a court heard today.

The Connors controlled and exploited dozens of homeless people, alcoholics and drug addicts for financial gain, verbally abusing and beating their victims, prosecutors said.

One of their alleged victims claimed they treated him “like a slave”, while another said the family, by contrast, lived in “luxury”, jurors were told.

The men were recruited from homeless centres, soup kitchens or “simply off the streets” and made to carry out daily physical labour, Luton Crown Court in Bedfordshire heard.

Prosecutor Frances Oldham QC said: “Men were targeted because they were vulnerable, and kept on sites like camps under orders not to leave.

“Their heads were shaved. They were paid little or nothing for their work. They were on occasions verbally abused and on occasions beaten. They may not in the strict sense have been slaves but they were not free men.”

The labourers were allegedly coerced into working for the Connors’ block paving business for up to 19 hours a day, six days a week.

Sundays were left free for further work by way of door-to-door selling, prosecutors said.

Mrs Oldham continued: “The evidence suggests that the Connors family made very substantial amounts of money through the exploitation of the servitude and forced labour of their workers.”

The men were held against their will at a succession of Travellers’ sites, culminating at a site in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, known as the Greenacres site, jurors heard.

One of the workers told police he regarded the site as “like a concentration camp”, the court was told.

The alleged victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was living on benefits in Brighton when he was recruited from a day centre by Tommy Connors Snr and two of his sons, jurors heard.

The Connors offered him a job, £50 in cash and a roof over his head and took him to a site in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, where Tommy Snr was then living, it is alleged.

He was set to work straight away but as time went on, Tommy Snr’s children began to treat the man “worse and worse”, he told police.

In 15 years, he received about £80 in cash, he claimed.

Some days he was given “no food at all”, nor were labourers allowed to leave work to get something to eat, it was alleged.

The court heard that bedding was changed roughly every four months; the workers’ quarters were “smelly” and the roof leaked; there were no shower facilities and labourers were taken for showers at most once a week but

sometimes only every few months; the area where they slept was “freezing cold”, they were at times given food so old that “flies were crawling over it”; and one man claimed that the dogs were better fed than he was.

Others described sleeping in a converted horse box with 11 bunks, or a caravan “so cold and damp that mould grew” in it.

Workers told police they were encouraged to address Tommy Snr as 'Pa', the court heard.

One said he had suffered “seven years of abuse, starvation and torture”, the court heard.

He claimed: “There was no respect. They treated me like a slave, and that’s putting it mildly.”

The alleged offences were initially carried out by Tommy Snr, but gradually over the past 15 years also by his children Johnny, Jimmy, Josie, Tommy and Patrick and son-in-law James John, the court was told.

Most of the workers sooner or later managed to escape but remained fearful of being “recaptured”, jurors heard.

Mrs Oldham said: “Other workers, particularly those whose captivity spanned many years, appear effectively to have lost the will to resist.”

The alleged crimes came to light last year when police raided the Greenacres site on September 11th.

Here they found 13 men who could be classified as “workers”, as opposed to members of the extended Connors family, the court heard.

Seven Connors family members were arrested.

Tommy Snr (52), is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

James John (34), also known as Big Jim, is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, holding a person in servitude, requiring a person to perform forced labour and battery.

Josie (30), is charged with holding a person in servitude and requiring a person to perform forced labour.

Johnny (28), is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour.

Tommy Jnr (26), is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour.

James (24), also known as Jimmy, is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour.

And Patrick (20), is charged with conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, conspiracy to require a person to perform forced labour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

At the opening of their trial, the seven sat in a line in the dock, the men dressed in shirts, ties and jumpers and Josie wearing a blue blouse.

Their alleged wrongdoing relates to eight workers but dozens were recruited, it is claimed.

Mrs Oldham described the alleged victims as “among the most vulnerable in society”.

Those who did contemplate escape lived under the Connors’ threat that they would be “pulled back” and “cracked”, the court heard.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow morning.

PA