Traveller family accused of forcing men to work as 'serfs'
FIVE MEMBERS of the same Traveller family kept their own “private workforce” to use as they pleased, Bristol Crown Court was told yesterday.
The men – often vulnerable homeless drifters or addicts – lived in caravans on Traveller sites across the country and were forced to work as “serfs”.
Beatings were common, and those who escaped were brought back, some more than once, the court was told.
Prosecutors allege William Connors (52), his wife Mary (48), their sons John (29) and James (20), and their son-in-law Miles Connors (23) were the “bosses” who ran the enterprise.
Last July, four members of an Irish Traveller family, Tommy Connors snr, his son Patrick, daughter Josie and son-in-law James John, were convicted in Luton of forcing destitute men into servitude, behaviour the trial judge described as “pure evil”.
The four were convicted of controlling, exploiting, verbally abusing and beating the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
James John and Josie were jailed for 11 and four years respectively.
As the trial in Bristol opened yesterday, the defendants all denied charges of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to carry out forced or compulsory labour.
But prosecuting counsel Christopher Quinlan QC told jurors that the accused “located and induced men, vulnerable by their circumstances and lifestyle, often homeless drifters, addicts, men isolated from their families and disconnected from society to work for them. Usually the recruitment was at shelters for the homeless or the streets. The men, who I shall refer to as the workers, were often made promises of accommodation, food and payment.
“Once they had been induced the workers were taken to caravan sites which the defendants owned or used or were associated with. Once with the defendants they were trapped and the promises made on the streets were spurious, empty promises intended to entice the men to go with them for one thing – work – and there was plenty of it.”
He continued: “The work was monotonous, arduous and unrelenting. It included maintenance work on the caravan sites, canvassing, door-to-door selling, hard manual labour, including paving, land work, driveways and gardening.
“The hours were long and the work was hard. Some were ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying the buckets used as toilets by their bosses. So far as the money goes it was derisory and sporadic, £5 here or £10 there. Those in receipt of state benefits were told to hand over their benefits to their bosses. Those bosses are those sat in the dock.”
Mr Quinlan said the enterprise came to an end when police raided Traveller sites in Staverton in Gloucestershire, Enderby in Leicestershire and Mansfield, Nottinghamshire on March 22nd, 2011. The case continues. – (PA)