Four members of the same travelling family, the Connors from Bedfordshire, were found guilty at Luton Crown Court yesterday. Their offences related to compelling vulnerable men into servitude and forced labour under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
Many of the ’enslaved’ men were addicts or in trouble with the police; they were lured by members of the family, from soup kitchens or homeless centres, by promises of paid work.
Once under control of the travellers, they were forced to carry out long days of heavy manual labour for the family’s paving business, as well as cleaning their property. They were given meagre rations, had no toilets or showers and slept 11 people to a converted horse-box.
Furthermore, the men were paid little or nothing for working six or seven days a week.
Prosecutor, Frances Oldham QC, told the court that the gang had intimidated the men through threats and violence, to keep them compliant and to stop them running away.
The Daily Mail reports Bedfordshire Police became aware of the problem because some of the men eventually escaped and told their stories. In July 2011 the local Major Crime Unit started an undercover investigation of the Connors’ Green Acres site.
The remaining men were rescued in September last year, when 250 police officers carried out an early morning raid.
Medical professionals reported that many of the men were malnourished. Some had suffered broken ribs and other injuries such as black eyes, cuts, bruises, and dog bites. Several of the men were in a confused mental state.
Even so, eight of the previously ‘enslaved’ men testified against the Connors at the trial.
The case is a shocking illustration of the invisible nature of the homeless in our society. These traumatised men raised the alarm concerning the Connors’ activities themselves, while the various authorities and agencies that should be concerned with vulnerable people do not seem to have realised they were missing and entrapped until that time.