Beds, Herts & Bucks

Connors family trial: Scurvy, squalor and servitude

Surveillance photograph taken by police
Image caption The Connors' victims were photographed by police at work laying block paving and clearing gardens

Four members of a family who denied capturing homeless and vulnerable men forcing them to work for no pay have been found guilty.

BBC News examines what conditions the victims of the Connors' family endured.

His head was shaved and he was put to work at 05:00 in the morning having had nothing to eat since his "capture" the day before.

It was in the summer of 2006 that the homeless man from Manchester agreed to work for the Connors family after being offered £80 a day.

On the way to the traveller family's caravan park in Bedfordshire he got cold feet and asked to be dropped off.

But a man he later identified as Paddy Connors - jailed for five years on Tuesday, by a judge at Luton Crown Court - told him: "No, you're coming with us."

It was not until the end of his first working day he received food, from other workers at the camp, near Leighton Buzzard.

Suffered beatings

It was food of the lowest quality, he said, an accusation that was confirmed when police raided the caravan site and found a small larder to feed 23 men.

Medical examinations after the raid revealed one of the men at the site was suffering from scurvy and another was covered in his own excrement, which he had been unable to clean off because he was so weak.

Examinations also showed the men had suffered broken bones, damaged ribs and other injuries that could only have been inflicted by beatings.

One man, who stayed with the Connors family after returning to the UK from Spain in 2004, told the police he had seen hundreds of workers passing through Green Acres and being abused.

The man described how Paddy Connors, when told of a worker trying to get away, had said: "No, he won't, I'll hurt him, I'll kill him."

Another man, an alcoholic, who lived with the Connors family for seven years until the raid, spoke of his experiences.

During his time with them, he said he travelled with the family abroad and his job included looking after the children.

'Starvation and torture'

On one job however, he fell through the roof of a garage and broke an ankle. He was kept working by being given painkillers but eventually he was taken to hospital.

He discharged himself and went back to work for the Connors family with his leg in plaster and wearing sandals.

The man described how he was once beaten with a broomstick that left scars on the back of his head.

He told police he had suffered "seven years of abuse, starvation and torture".

"There was no respect. They treated me like a slave and that's putting it mildly," he said.

Image caption The men lived in caravans and sheds which were later condemned as unfit for human habitation

One of the men had been picked up in London when he was down on his luck and offered £50, a roof over his head, food and clothing if he worked for the family.

When he asked for his money he was told he would get nothing and that shelter and food was better than living on the streets.

He tried to escape after a beating and was chased, stabbed in the back of the head, knocked to the ground and dragged back to Green Acres.

Others who considered escaping listened to rumours there was a field at the caravan site where bodies were buried. The men told the trial they regarded this as a veiled threat.

The family's victims lived in squalor in sheds, run-down caravans and horse boxes.

Scabies infections

There were no toilets or showers and they were taken to a nearby leisure centre on Fridays to wash.

Their bedding was changed about every four months and they received one meal a day, resulting in most suffering malnutrition and low body weight.

Medical examinations found some of the men had previously had or were suffering from scabies infections.

While their victims were underfed and lived in squalor, the Connors family are believed to have hidden millions of pounds in offshore bank accounts. These were the proceeds from their block paving, asphalting and clearance businesses over some 15 years.

If the money is recovered the first beneficiaries are to be the men who they kept in servitude.

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

The daughter of Tommy Connors Sr Josie, 31, and her husband James John Connors, 34, were jailed for 11 years and four years respectively last year 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.

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