Beds, Herts & Bucks

Connors family trial: The psychology of the victims

Image caption The men who were found on the streets and in soup kitchens were lured by an offer of accommodation and food

It was an investigation that revealed a twisted regime of criminality based on threats, malnourishment, violence and squalor.

But as BBC News found, some of those who fell victim to exploitation by the family that ran it were not happy when police broke it up.

The inquiry began when a man flagged down a passing police car in Bedfordshire claiming he had been "captured" and made to work for no pay.

What police uncovered at the Green Acres traveller site near Leighton Buzzard was serial exploitation; abuse and violence against vulnerable men by four members of the Connors family who lived there.

Horse box 'home'

Over two subsequent trials - one last July and the other which finished on Tuesday - jurors were told details of the harsh lifestyle lived by the men, some for up to 15 years.

When police raided the caravan park they found men living in what most people would regard as squalor.

They ate and slept in sheds, crumbling caravans and even horse boxes. Some had been there for as long as 15 years.

The family's victims were often alcoholics, drug addicts or suffered mental health problems and had been recruited from the streets where they had been sleeping rough.

On Tuesday, Tommy Connors Sr, 53, was jailed for eight years and his son Patrick, 21, for five years, at Luton Crown Court. Both men were convicted of servitude, compulsory labour and assault charges.

'Bonds and beliefs'

The daughter of Tommy Connors Sr Josie, 31, and her husband James John Connors, 34, were jailed for 11 years and four years respectively for keeping vulnerable men in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour. James John Connors - known as "Big Jim" - was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Their victims were offered accommodation, food and work, but few imagined how hard they would work laying asphalt, block paving or concrete and how little they would get in return.

However, not all of the men at the site were as pleased as the victim who alerted the police that the Connors family's abusive regime had at last been brought to a close.

Some victims refused to give evidence against the family, while others even credited them with improving their lot.

Image caption Police found men living in squalor at the Greenacres caravan park in Bedfordshire, in September 2011

Forensic psychologist Louise Starkie, of the University of Bedfordshire, who followed the first trial, said: "It is understandable that individuals will form bonds with and beliefs about the people who have essentially 'captured' them.

"Firstly, they were provided with a home, and whilst you and I may consider this to be an unsuitable home environment, it may be better than the alternative - to live on the streets or return back to a problematic home life.

"Food, shelter and a sense of security on offer were all things the victims did not have in their lives."

One man told police he came to accept the Connors' way of life soon after he was found by them sitting on the ground next to a park bench in Stoke-on-Trent.

Another of the people at Green Acres, an alcoholic, said he had been thinking of suicide and believed the Connors family had saved his life. He lived with them for seven years until the raid.

He joined them and stayed after returning from Spain in 2004 and said he had enough food, tobacco and shelter but was grateful he got no money as that would all go on drink.

The man was told his past was gone and he should not talk about it ever again. He had been on benefits but this stopped when the Connors family took over his life and he "disappeared".

'Easily manipulated'

Ms Starkie explained the Connors family might even have believed they were doing the men a favour taking them off the streets.

The dynasty was headed by Belfast-born Tommy Connors Sr, the youngest of 19 children, who was proud to be the seventh generation of an Irish traveller family.

He said the men were free to come and go and were fed and paid. It was the nature of the business that men would come and go while others stayed, he told the trial.

Ms Starkie said: "Somebody who is homeless, who is dependent on substances or who suffers from a mental disorder is more likely to benefit from an 'offer' of support than individuals who have a safe home environment.

"Individuals who suffer from mental disorder may be more easily manipulated, less likely to understand the consequences of their actions and may feel they have little support from other sources."

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