Traveller family accused of exploitation
HOMELESS AND vulnerable men were poorly fed, frequently threatened and forced to work for nothing by a family of Irish Travellers, some for years, a Luton court was told yesterday.
Thomas Connors, four sons, a daughter and her husband face charges of forcing others to perform forced labour, while some of them also face assault allegations.
They were arrested after a dramatic early morning raid by Bedfordshire police on a Traveller site at Leighton Buzzard on September 11th last year.
Opening the case, Frances Oldham QC said it was about “control and exploitation” of victims who were “deliberately” chosen because “they were among the most vulnerable in society”.
The prosecution alleges that “dozens, if not a hundred” men were recruited over the years by the Connors and then left ill-treated, ill-housed and unpaid. They worked from 5am until 11pm.
On weekends they were ordered to call on homes to win paving and tarmac contracts, while they were also forced to keep the Connors’ own accommodation “spotless”, the court was told.
“They were controlled in such a way that in many cases they could not see it, controlled and exploited so that these defendants could make a lot of money,” she told Luton Crown Court.
Thomas Connors snr, Tommy Connors jnr and Patrick and James Connors face six charges of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and six of conspiring to get a person to perform forced labour.
Mr Connors’s daughter Josie and her husband James John Connors are accused of two charges of holding a person in servitude and two of requiring forced or compulsory labour.
James John Connors is also accused of causing actual bodily harm to a man between 2004 and 2011, while he is also accused of the battery of another between January and September 2011.
Thomas Connors snr is also accused of causing actual bodily harm between 1996 and 2011, Patrick Connors is accused of causing aggravated harm between 2006 and 2011 and Johnny Connors is charged with conspiring to hold a person in servitude and one of conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
The prosecution repeatedly urged journalists not to describe the case, which could last for up to four months, as being about slavery, but it was rather about allegations of forced labour and servitude.
Typically, the alleged victims were recruited “at homeless centres, soup-kitchens or simply off the street” and subsequently held against their will, the prosecution alleges.
“Physical violence and the threat of such violence, whether spoken or unspoken, was regularly used to ensure compliance with demands for work and to stop any claims for promised wages,” Ms Oldham said.
“Common sense will tell you that people used in this way are unlikely to be strong, well-adjusted members of society,” she told the jury. “You will hear from a number of witnesses whose intellectual or social functioning is impaired. Some have had problems with alcohol, or with drugs, or both. Some have criminal convictions.”
Eventually, most of the men “sooner or later, managed to escape”, although the court heard allegations that a number had been “recaptured” by the Connors.
“Others, particularly those whose captivity spanned many years, appear effectively to have lost the will to resist.” She added that some “collaborated” with the Connors “to oppress others”.
The Connors quickly parted with one man when they learned he was listed as a missing person after the police stopped one of their vans in February 2011. Patrick Connors asked how he could be removed from such a list. Told that he could not be, Mr Connors rang the police officer later to say that Mr X had been put on a train and was returning home.
“The Connors soon recognised the danger that they were getting into if they did not let this man leave, ostensibly by agreement,” said Ms Oldham, adding that he was threatened to keep silent after he left.
Following the September raid, some of the men taken from the Greenacres caravan site refused to co-operate with police, while “at least one” returned there.
Some of the alleged victims of the Connors – none of whom can be identified – will give evidence next week by video-link, while a few will appear in court.
TORTURE CLAIMS: MEN'S ACCOMMODATION ALLEGED TO HAVE HAD NO LIGHT OR HEATING
HOMELESS MEN allegedly held in servitude by a family of Irish Travellers in England were forced to eat the remains of kebabs left by the family, a court was told.
“At other times they were given food that was so old flies were crawling over it,” prosecuting barrister Frances Oldham told Luton Crown Court.
One of the alleged victims was left “shaking” and filled with terror as he was being taken to a rescue centre when he was called on a mobile by one of the Connors family.
During lengthy interviews after the September 2011 police raid, this man said he had endured “seven years of abuse, starvation and torture” and was treated “like a slave”, she went on.
Another alleged victim was badly beaten by James John Connors after the man had broken a piece of Waterford Crystal belonging to Mr Connors’s wife, Josie, said to have been worth £3,000.
Following the breakage, the victim, according to a witness, was “whacked” and kicked in the head by Mr Connors and left with a swollen hand, it was alleged.
Questioned by police, Mr Connors claimed the poor living conditions of the men, who lived in sheds and a horse-box, were their own fault because they were “very untidy”.
“His workers had previously lived in cardboard boxes when they had been on streets, and that anywhere is better than being on the streets,” Ms Oldham said Mr Connors had told detectives.
One man had managed to escape from the family but was found by another of the accused, Johnny Connors, miles from the caravan site and brought back. He was told “things were going to get better”.
This individual, who claims to have been injured during an attack at the hands of some of the family, was taken away from a hospital so he would not speak to police, it was alleged.
All of the men were told to address Thomas Connors snr as “Dad” and his wife Mary as “Ma”, while Thomas Connors’s sons were to be referred to as their “brothers”, the court heard.
The men were alleged to have been kept in accommodation without light or heating.
Mr Connors snr had become angry on a few occasions when he learned they had plugged in radiators, it was said.
They were forced to wash in the open air with cold-water taps and had to go to the toilet in the fields surrounding the Greenacres caravan site because they were barred from using the Connors’s toilets.
Initially the men were taken to the local leisure centre for showers once a week. Some of the men who have agreed to give evidence have claimed the showers were later provided months apart.