Couple jailed for 'slave' treatment
A husband and wife who treated destitute men "worse than slaves" by forcing them into servitude have been jailed for 11 years and four years respectively.
James John, 34, and Josie Connors, 31, who are both members of a traveller family, "brutally manipulated and exploited" the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Sentencing them at Luton Crown Court, Judge Michael Kay QC said: "In 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. It did not mean that overnight slavery, servitude and the incidence of forced labour came to an end."
He continued: "So it is that nearly 200 years after slavery was officially abolished, defendants have stood trial over a period of three months and been convicted of holding their fellow human beings in servitude and exacting from them forced labour."
The couple lured the destitute men to their caravan site with the promise of money for work in their paving business. They then subjected them to abuse while forcing them to live in squalid conditions with hardly any food and no means of washing. "The promise of pay was a monstrous and callous deceit," the judge said.
He added: "The way in which these defendants, for their own financial benefit, brutally manipulated and exploited men who are already plumbing the depths of despair is pure evil. Their behaviour is profoundly at odds with the moral code of the religion they profess.
"Their complete disdain for the dignity and fundamental rights of fellow human beings is shocking. They were not Good Samaritans seeking to assist their fellow man in his hour of need but violent, cold hearted exploiters of his frailties and ill fortune."
The couple, who are also cousins, had both denied two counts of holding a person in servitude and two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. James John, also known as Big Jim, was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The prosecution offered no evidence on a battery charge after the jury failed to reach a verdict on it.
Josie's brother Johnny, 28, walked free from court after the jury cleared him of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and the prosecution offered no evidence on a further count of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. The judge ordered a retrial next year for four other defendants on whom the jury could not reach verdicts.
Proceeds of crime hearings against James John and Josie will be heard at a later date. One victim, who worked for the couple for 15 months, is seeking £30,000 in compensation, while another, who was with them for three months, wants £11,000, the court was told.