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Travellers recruited slaves for 'concentration camp' - April-19-12
Source: The Telegraph (Victoria Ward)
Seven members of the Connors family are standing trial on charges linked to servitude and forced labour.
It is claimed that their alleged victims were picked up in homeless centres, soup kitchens and on the street, then held against their will. Their heads were shaved and they were verbally abused and sometimes beaten.
Dozens of recruits were put to work for up to 19 hours a day doing hard physical labour and block paving for the family business, Luton Crown Court heard.
Many managed to escape but others "lost the will to resist," Frances Oldham QC, prosecuting, told the jury.
"This was a well established and long running system," she said.
"Various forms of authority and intimidation were used.
"We are talking here about men often isolated from normal family or social contact, with low self esteem.
"We are talking about men who knew that those who crossed the Connors family suffered violent revenge.
"The defendants, as we say, were exploiting them and making them almost childlike."
Tommy Connors Snr, James John Connors, Josie Connors, Johnny Connors, Tommy Connors Jnr, James Connors and Patrick Connors, aged between 20 and 52, sat impassively in the dock as the extent of their alleged crimes was outlined.
The court heard that labourers were held at a succession of travellers' sites, eventually residing at the Greenacres site in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.
They were paid little or nothing for their work and were lucky if given just one meal a day. They worked six days a week, leaving Sundays for door to door selling, it was alleged.
When police raided the site last September they found 13 workers, one of whom was living in a shed, dirty and frightened, Mrs Oldham said.
There was £4,000 in cash hidden in a cooking pot in one of the Connors' chalets, where the rooms were comfortably furnished.
The charges relate to eight workers, one of whom told police he thought of the site "like a concentration camp", the court was told.
The alleged victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was living on benefits in Brighton when he was recruited from a day centre by Tommy Connors Snr and two of his sons, jurors heard.
The family offered him a job, £50 in cash and a roof over his head.
The following day the man is said to have been set to work, knocking on doors and asking for block paving or tarmac work.
However, the promises were never kept, Mrs Oldham said.
His conditions grew gradually worse, there was no lavatory on one site and he was expected to shower at a local leisure centre once a week.
He was fed just once a day, sometimes not at all, and given a black eye by Tommy Connors Snr if things went wrong, the court heard.
He was not allowed to go to the local shops without permission and slept in a shed which contained "barely enough room to walk".
Later on, "the interval between showers became months, sometimes, rather than days", it was alleged.
In about 15 years, he received just £80 in cash, Mrs Oldham said, but the workers were "too frightened" to confront anyone about it.
Tommy Connors Snr sometimes punched him two or three times, once attacking him with a broom handle and once scratching him with his nails, drawing blood, it was alleged.
A subsequent medical examination found that he had old fractures to his ankle and two to his ribs.
The alleged offences were initially carried out by the father of the family,
Tommy Connors Snr, but later by his children Johnny, Jimmy, Josie, Tommy and Patrick and son-in-law James John, the court was told.
Together, the family faces 20 charges. The trial, due to last up to 12 weeks, continues.
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