Monday 24 October 2016

'Traveller gang allegedly bought and forced man to do hard labour for 26 years,' court hears

Published 21/04/2016 | 10:08

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A vulnerable man allegedly forced to do hard labour for 26 years has told a jury that prison was like a "holiday camp" when compared to the ill treatment he endured from his violent boss.

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Michael Hughes, 46, sobbed in front of a jury as he spoke about his life after being "bought" by building firm boss Patrick Joseph Connors.

Connors, 59, of Rumney, is on trial at Cardiff Crown Court along with his two sons Patrick Dean Connors and William Connors as well as son-in-law Lee Christopher Carbis.

All four deny the charge against them.

On day two of the case, Aberdeen born Mr Hughes spoke how the Connors made him live in a 4ft wide garden shed with no heating or running water for two years.

And the witness said he had to work long hours for as little as £5 a day - even with a broken leg - and would get beatings "all the time".

However, Mr Hughes said he was given a brief respite from his ordeal after being sent back to Scotland for unpaid fines before being jailed.

He said: "Prison was like a holiday camp. I had three meals a day. I had a shower, a telly, heating. I did not really care about my freedom.

"I had to go back down to Wales when I was released. Paddy (Connors senior) told me to ... because he would come after me again."

Mr Hughes, who was taken into care at the age of three, said he left northern Scotland and came to Wales in search of a better life.

However, after a brief stint doing building work for a man called Johnny Wall his services were acquired by a family in the Marshfield area before being "passed onto" the Connors.

He said: "I think he (Connors senior) bought me."

At the time, then homeless Mr Hughes said he was totally unaware of what lay in store for him.

He added: "Paddy said that I would get work all the time, get money all the time and I'd get somewhere to live.

"I thought my luck had changed."

Mr Hughes said he first lived in a totally gutted house with no electricity before being moved to a small shed and would have to wash himself in the cold using an outside tap.

"There was no heating in there ... How long did I stay there? Until it rotted.

"I had nowhere else to go. I didn't know anyone."

Mr Hughes also said he would work seven days a week come rain or shine or snow - with a court hearing that Connors' tarmacking business often duped elderly people into having their driveways done for inflated prices.

He said: "Sometimes I would leave at 6am in the morning ... and not get back until 10 or 11 o'clock (at night).

"Sometimes I would get paid a fiver, some tobacco or cigarettes and that was it.

"The customers that we would carry out work for were mostly elderly. The youngest one I ever worked for was 60.

"We would dig up their drive and get halfway ... (before saying there was a problem) ... the price would then double.

"If I didn't get more money off them I'd get a beating."

Despite the promise of being given a "granny flat" to live in, Mr Hughes said he was then made to live in a garage.

"I was washing myself out of a bucket of freezing cold water and drying myself with dirty clothes," he added.

Mr Hughes later decided to flee and hitch-hiked back to Scotland.

However, he said within days Connors managed to track him down outside the dole office in Aberdeen and was thrown in the boot of a car before being driven back to Wales.

"(When we got back) I was made to wait in the garage," he told the jury.

"What happened? I got a beating off Paddy. He used me like a punch bag and put me to the floor before he booted me a few times."

Mr Hughes said he was later called out of the garage and handed a telephone before being told "tell these people it was just your mates playing a practical joke".

He added: "It was the police... I told them exactly what he told me to say... otherwise I would get another beating."

Mr Hughes said the poor treatment even continued despite suffering a broken leg after being knocked down by a car.

The jury heard the witness was in hospital for 11 days with pneumonia after sleeping in a cold caravan with a broken skylight.

"What happened when I came out of hospital? I was brought back to work and made to live in the caravan."

As well as Mr Hughes, the Crown also says a second male - known as Mr K - was kidnapped and assaulted.

All four defendants in the trial deny one count of requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour between 2010 and 2013.

Connors senior, of Rumney, has also pleaded not guilty to eight counts of causing actual bodily harm, four of kidnap and one of conspiracy to kidnap. The dates for those alleged offences range between 1990 and 2012.

Patrick Dean Connors, of Rumney, denies kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap.

William Connors, also of Rumney, has pleaded not guilty to causing actual bodily harm on a man between 2009 and 2013.

Carbis, of Trowbridge, also denies one count of kidnap between 2001 and 2002.

The case, which is expected to last six weeks, continues.

Press Association

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