Forced labour family jailed for 29 years

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image copyrightPolice Scotland
image captionClockwise from top left: James McPhee, Robert McPhee, John Miller and Steven McPhee.

A family gang have been jailed for a total of 29 years after being convicted of a campaign of kidnappings, violence and intimidation against workers.

Robert McPhee, 65 teamed up with sons James, 45, and Steven, 37, as well as son-in-law John Miller, 38, to prey on vulnerable men.

The eight victims came from troubled backgrounds and worked mammoth shifts for little or no pay.

A jury heard they were brutally punished if they complained.

'Used for work'

Passing sentence, judge Lady Stacey told them that people who had a "variety of problems" were "used by them" for work.

She said: "You did not treat them properly.

"In some cases there was violence over a long period, in others there were abductions by which you forced people away from their families and forced them to work for you.

"The jury convicted three of you of serious offences and one of you pled guilty to assault.

"These are serious matters, the evidence showed an attitude from you of thinking that you were able to tell people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to live and backing up your instructions with violence."

image copyrightPolice Scotland
image captionThe gang operated from traveller sites including one in Larkhall

Robert McPhee - known as Bobby - was convicted of 14 charges, James McPhee of eight and John Miller was found guilty of two.

The catalogue of crimes included abductions, assaults and holding workers against their will or in "servitude".

Robert McPhee, whose nickname was the Tank Commander, was jailed for a total of 10 years with two years supervision when he is released.

James was sentenced to nine years behind bars and three years supervision, and Miller was jailed for a total of seven years with three years supervision.

Steven McPhee had also stood trial, but he admitted assaulting one worker, who damaged his van, near the end of the case. He was jailed for three years.

'Skinned with a razor'

One tortured victim told how he was battered and "taught a lesson" when he tried to get away.

Another told he was "owned" by the family.

Jurors heard further evidence of a petrified worker "left cowering like a dog" due to the abuse.

One man who fled was also told he had a £5,000 bounty on his head and would be "skinned" with a razor unless he returned.

The gang denied the charges claiming they were picked on by "overzealous" police.

They claimed the family had shown "kindness, generosity and tolerance" to workers.

James McPhee even insisted the men had been "so evil" by making up "fantasies".

But, they were found guilty following a five-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

'Taught a lesson'

The crimes spanned between 1992 and 2016.

The family made a living from their mono-blocking, slabbing and tree cutting businesses.

They stayed at a number of traveller sites across Scotland including one in Bathgate, West Lothian, and another in Larkhall, South Lanarkshire.

They latterly had a base at Curryside Piggery in Shotts, North Lanarkshire.

Prosecutors said workers were "well chosen" due to being "vulnerable" making them "ripe" to be manipulated.

The gang was snared during a large-scale police probe that began in 2016.

Robert McPhee was found guilty of offences against eight men.

He was convicted of assaulting all of them as well as abducting and holding two men in "servitude".

His QC Ian Duguid said he still denies treating people in the way he was accused of.

James McPhee was guilty of attacks on two men and a woman, as well as assaulting and abducting another man.

John Miller was convicted of abducting and holding a man in "servitude".

The court heard from defence counsel John Scullion who said: "He continues to deny the two offences of which he was convicted."

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