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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Wealthy Traveller family kept their own private 'slaves'

Rod Minchin

Published 15/12/2012 | 05:00

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Five members of the same Traveller family were yesterday found guilty of keeping their own private workforce.

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William Connors (52) his wife Mary (48) their sons John (29) and James (20) and their son-in-law Miles Connors (24) were all convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court found the Connors family guilty after a three-month trial.

There were loud and violent outbursts from members of the Connors family in the public gallery. Six security guards stood around the five defendants as the foreman of the jury returned the guilty verdicts one by one.

Family members jumped to their feet and extra security guards came into court to physically remove relatives.

Jury

John Connors' wife was carried from the court after trying to climb out of the public gallery into the dock.

As she left, she wailed: "Please, please, I'm asking you no. Don't do this."

They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude but the trial judge ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence.

The prosecution was brought under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

During the trial, the court heard that the Connors would pick up the 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 on the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Some were also ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying the buckets used as toilets by their bosses. Their work was monotonous, arduous and unrelenting, and they were controlled by discipline and violence.

Some of the men – called "dossers" by the Connors – had worked for the family for nearly two decades. Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.

On another occasion one worker had a hosepipe shoved down his throat and the men were often made to strip for a "hosing down session" with freezing water.

"It caused fear in the men," said prosecutor Christopher Quinlan QC.

"It was a clear and unequivocal demonstration of control and dominance, of one set, the family, over another."

The court heard the men were paid as little as £5 for a day's hard labour on jobs that would earn the family several thousands pounds.

They were given so little food they resorted to scavenging from dustbins at supermarkets for something to eat.

The men also salvaged clothing from bins and used a bucket or woodland as a toilet.

Spoils

In contrast, the Connors grew fat on the spoils of their workers' hard labour and lived in large and well-appointed caravans fitted with top-of-the-range kitchens and flat screen televisions.

William and Mary, known as Billy and Brida, enjoyed luxurious holidays, including to Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean.

As well as holidays, they drove around in top of the range cars, including a silver A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van, and had built up a mounting property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds.

The family bought two caravan parks in Gloucestershire for £545,000 (€669,000) more than a decade ago and had over £500,000 (€614,000) between them in bank accounts.

Several houses – including one with a hot tub and accompanying flat screen television – were registered in the names of other relatives.

The foreman continued to return unanimous verdicts on the other defendants and, following wild outbursts, Judge Longman ordered the public gallery to be cleared.

The judge said that he would pass sentence on Monday afternoon.

Irish Independent

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