Saturday 25 October 2014

Five Travellers jailed after forcing vulnerable men to work for pittance

Barry Duggan and Rod Minchin

Published 20/12/2012 | 05:00

FIVE members of a Traveller family – originally from Limerick – have been jailed for more than 18 years after they beat vulnerable men and forced them to work for a pittance.

Williams Connors (52) has been jailed for six-and-a-half years, while his wife, Mary (48), was imprisoned for two years and three months at Bristol Crown Court.

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

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

All were convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial.

Drifters

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

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

The five family members have been living across the UK and Europe for a number of years, but they have extended family living in Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Investigating officers in the UK are attempting to investigate if a money trail from their proceeds of crime can be traced back to Rathkeale where it is suspected that they have a number of properties.

To afford top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays, the family picked up men – often homeless drifters or addicts – to work for them.

Their victims lived in squalid caravans on halting sites as they moved around the UK working for the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Their work was arduous and unrelenting and they were controlled by discipline and violence. Some of the men had worked for the family for nearly two decades.

Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovels, or punched and kicked by the defendants.

The men were paid as little as £5 (€6) for a day's labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands pounds.

They were given so little food that they resorted to scavenging from rubbish bins. Meanwhile, the defendants lived in large caravans with luxury kitchens and flat-screen TVs.

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

The family also spent the spoils of their crimes on breaks to Tenerife and Mexico.

Their cars included 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.

Their property portfolio is estimated at millions of pounds.

Their bank accounts contained more than £500,000 (€613,000).

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

Assaulted

They were placed under 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 in Gloucestershire, Enderby in Leicestershire and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire on March 22, 2011.

Judge Longman said: "All (victims) were vulnerable in some way and it was this vulnerability which was exploited by the defendants for their own commercial gain."

The judge said the sentences passed required a "deterrent element to discourage others".

The judge told William Connors that, as head of the family, his exploitation brought rich financial rewards.

"The exploitation of vulnerable men by requiring them to work in conditions amounting to forced or compulsory labour has been a way of life that you have lived for many years," the judge said.

The court heard Mary Connors benefited from the wealth generated by the exploitation of vulnerable men.

"You knew of the way of life of the workers, the conditions in which they lived and worked and you gave them tasks yourself when they were not working off-site," the judge told her.

Relations who were in the public gallery broke down in tears as the prison sentences were imposed.

Irish Independent

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