'This is not about racism, it is about a human being's capacity to be inhumane'
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:AN IRISH Traveller couple convicted of holding homeless men in servitude and forced labour in England had displayed “pure evil” towards their victims, a judge said yesterday.
Sentencing James John Connors and his wife, Josie – two of four family members found guilty on Wednesday of multiple charges – Judge Michael Kay rejected claims made during the 13-week trial that the Travellers had been subjected to a conspiracy by the police.
“The defendants sought to suggest that they had done nothing wrong and the only reason they were on trial was because of racism against Irish Travellers,” he told the crowded courtroom at Luton Crown Court.
“It was suggested that they led an honourable and proud way of life which this prosecution was seeking to destroy,” he said, adding that the Connors had presented themselves as religious.
“The truth is this case is not about racism or the way of life of Irish Travellers, it is simply about a human being’s capacity to be inhumane to a fellow human being.”
The victims recounted during the trial how they had been forced to work under threat of violence and had slept in cramped, dilapidated conditions in old caravans or a one-time shed used as a dog kennel.
All were discovered emaciated and in desperately poor health during a police raid last September on the Connors’s Greenacres caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Judge Kay said: “The way in which these defendants, for their own financial benefit, brutalised, manipulated and exploited men who were already plumbing the depths of despair as homeless beggars is pure evil.
“Their behaviour is profoundly at odds with the moral code of the religion they profess and indeed of any moral code, whether it is based on religious or secular beliefs,” he went on. “Their complete disdain for the dignity and fundamental rights of their fellow human beings is shocking.
“They were not Good Samaritans seeking to assist their fellow man in his hour of need and treating him as they would wish to be treated, but violent, cold-hearted exploiters of his frailties and ill-fortune.”
During the trial, the court had heard that “it had long been the practice of Irish Travelling families to offer food and accommodation in return for labour to vagrants, or, as they were described, ‘men of the road’,” the judge said.
“Whatever may have been the position in the past, it is clear to me that James John Connors realised that there was a source of cheap labour available in our towns and cities.
“The homeless, addicted and isolated men who sleep rough and beg on the streets were potential workers who could be exploited for financial gain,” he added.
However, the promises of pay made to their victims were “a monstrous and callous deceit”, since “there never was any intention that they would be paid any significant sum”.