Tuesday 16 January 2018

Traveller couple jailed for luring men into slavery

Laura Harding

A HUSBAND and wife who treated destitute men "worse than slaves" by forcing them into servitude have been jailed for 11 years and four years respectively.

James John Connors (34) and Josie Connors (31), both members of a Traveller family, "brutally manipulated and exploited" the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, England.

Sentencing them at Luton Crown Court yesterday, Judge Michael Kay said: "In 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. It did not mean that overnight slavery, servitude and the incidence of forced labour came to an end.

"Nearly 200 years after slavery was officially abolished, defendants have been convicted of holding their fellow human beings in servitude and exacting from them forced labour."

Lured

The couple lured the destitute men to their caravan site with the promise of money for work in their paving business.

They then subjected them to abuse while forcing them to live in squalid conditions, with hardly any food and no means of washing.

The judge said: "The way in which these defendants, for their own financial benefit, brutally manipulated and exploited men who are already plumbing the depths of despair is pure evil."

The couple, who are also cousins, had both denied two counts of holding a person in servitude and two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

James John, also known as 'Big Jim', was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The prosecution offered no evidence on a battery charge after the jury had failed to reach a verdict on it.

During the trial, the jury heard that the complainants, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work up to 19 hours a day.

One man described a life of being treated "like a slave". He was recruited in 2004 when James John saw him in a "distressed state" in a service station, the judge said.

He continued: "He was an alcoholic. In three months, he was weaned off alcohol. Your purpose was to put him to work.

"He lived in a caravan with no toilets or washing facilities; he had to go to the toilet in a field."

The man had to work from 5am to around 9pm on driveway work and then had to clean the Connors' caravan to "an immaculate condition".

"He said he was beaten and practically starved, punched, kicked and hit with a broom handle," said the judge.

Another man said he felt "worse than a slave". He managed to escape and told police the couple took his benefit money from him and forced him to perform hard labour for up to 16 hours a day, unpaid.

The judge dismissed claims that the trial was racism against Irish Travellers.

He said: "This is not about racism or the way of life of Irish Travellers. It is about a capacity to be inhumane to a fellow human being."

Josie's brother Johnny (28) walked free after the jury had cleared him of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and the prosecution offered no evidence on a count of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The judge ordered a retrial next year for four other defendants on whom the jury could not reach verdicts.

Proceeds of crime hearings against James John Connors and Josie Connors will be heard at a later date.

Irish Independent

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