Five members of Traveller family jailed in forced labour trial

Wednesday 19 December 2012 22.31
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The Connors family, seen in a handout by Gloucester Police
The Connors family, seen in a handout by Gloucester Police
Vulnerable men forced to work for a pittance
Vulnerable men forced to work for a pittance
The Connors family spent money on expensive Holidays
The Connors family spent money on expensive Holidays
Mary and William Connors
Mary and William Connors
John Connors
John Connors
Miles (L) and James Connors
Miles (L) and James Connors

Five members of the same Traveller family, who lived a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable men forced to work for a pittance, were all jailed today.

William Connors, 52, was jailed for six-and-a-half years and his wife Mary, 48, received a sentence of two years and three months.

Their son, John, 29, was jailed for four years, while another son James, 20, got three years detention in a young offender institution.

Son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, received a three-year prison sentence.

They were all convicted at Bristol Crown Court of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial.

They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude.

However, trial judge Michael Longman ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence.

Men picked up by the family were paid as little as £5 for a day's labour on jobs that would earn the Connors several thousands of pounds.

The court heard that the Connors enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays and their bank accounts contained more than £500,000.

The family picked up men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers.

The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites as they moved around the country working in the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.

Police began investigating the Connors following the discovery of the body of worker Christopher Nicholls, 40, in 2008.

The introduction of the Coroners and Justice Act in April 2010 created offences of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to carry out forced or compulsory labour.

The Connors were placed under covert surveillance in August 2010 and police recorded evidence of the men being assaulted.

The enterprise came to an end when police raided sites in Staverton, Enderby in Leicestershire and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire on 22 March 2011.

The Connors maintained the men were "free agents" able to come and go as they please and William and Mary suggested they acted as "good Samaritans" by providing them with food, work and accommodation.

Family made 'absolute fortune' from exploitation

The Detective Chief Inspector who led the investigation said that the family made an "absolute fortune" from exploiting vulnerable men.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Sellwood said that police were unable to pursue complaints made against the family when they were first brought to their attention in 2009.

The introduction of the Coroners and Justice Act enabled them to act on the complaints.

He said: "At that time the police looked at what offences could have been committed by the Connors family and there were none that fitted the bill.

"In the beginning of 2010 a new offence was created under the Coroners and Justice Act, the offence of holding people in slavery, servitude or forced labour.

"When we knew that was coming into being we decided to launch a proactive investigation to gather evidence of what the Connors were doing."

Det Chief Inspector Sellwood described the Connors as "greedy, arrogant people" who cruelly exploited the most vulnerable of men.

He said: "This was a criminal enterprise from beginning to end. They picked up vulnerable people, they offered them a new life and hope when they didn't have any, and then they dashed that.

"They cruelly exploited them. When they didn't do what they were told they threatened and assaulted them, and made an absolute fortune off the backs of these vulnerable men."

He said that most of those men are now doing quite well, although it has been difficult for those who spent the most time with the Connors.

Det Chief Inspector Sellwood said: "Many of them were street drinkers. They had alcohol problems, but quite a number are sober and have been for some time.

"Most of them have been re-housed. Most of them are accepting help that is being offered to them.

"There are a couple though that were with the Connors family for decades and those individuals have found it very, very difficult to build new lives."