Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Family face jail over forced labour

William and Mary Connors in front of their 1988 Rolls Royce (Gloucestershire Police/PA)

A traveller family who led a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable men who they forced to work for a pittance are facing jail.

William Connors, 52, his wife Mary, 48, their sons John, 29, and James, 20, and their son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays.

To help them sustain their lifestyle, the family picked up men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers. The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites as they moved around the country working on the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Some were also ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying buckets used as toilets by their bosses. The work was monotonous and arduous, and they were controlled by discipline and violence.

Some of the men, called "dossers" by the Connors, had worked for the family for nearly two decades. Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.

"It caused fear in the men," said prosecutor Christopher Quinlan QC. "Not just themselves being assaulted, but to see the others - if you see one of your colleagues being beaten, you knew what to expect. It was a clear and unequivocal demonstration of control and dominance, of one set, the family, over another. If you compare and contrast the lifestyles of the workers and bosses it is like comparing a Maserati versus a clapped-out Zephyr."

The men were paid as little as £5 for a day's hard labour on jobs that would earn the family several thousands pounds. They were given so little food they resorted to scavenging from dustbins at supermarkets for something to eat.

In contrast, the Connors lived in large, well-appointed caravans fitted with smart kitchens and flat-screen televisions. William and Mary, known as Billy and Brida, enjoyed holidays including a trip to Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean on the Cunard flagship liner Queen Mary 2.

Following a three-month trial at Bristol Crown Court, the Connors were all unanimously convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011. They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude but the trial judge ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence.

William Connors, Mary Connors, both of The Willows, John Connors and James Connors, both of Beggar's Roost caravan park, all of Bamfurlong Lane, Staverton, Gloucestershire; and Miles Connors, of Mary Street, Bradford, West Yorkshire, were remanded in custody until sentencing on Tuesday.

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