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High life of the travellers who ran slave gang: Lived in luxury while beating homeless man into a 'state of servitude'
Family of five kept private army of labourers in cramped, squalid caravans
The Connors paid the vulnerable drifters as little as 5 a day and beat them
The victims were attacked with brooms and rakes to keep them obedientSlaves were made to strip and one had hosepipe forced down his throatMany were addicts who were supplied with cannabis to keep them docileWilliam Connors, 51, lived a life of luxury while his workforce suffered
01:03 GMT, 15 December 2012
A family of travellers who kept homeless drug addicts and alcoholics as virtual slaves were last night facing years behind bars.
The Connors family owned homes with hot tubs; a fleet of cars including a Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes saloon; enjoyed Caribbean cruises and holidays in Mexico and Dubai; and had 500,000 in the bank.
But their fortune came from constructing driveways and patios using a workforce of vulnerable men kept in squalid conditions, paid a pittance, and living in fear of violence.
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Cruelty: Wealthy traveller William Connors, 51, berates one of his labourers at a caravan park
Terrified: The labourers faced the constant threat of being attacked by their 'employers', sometimes with implements including rakes and broom handles
Sick: Connors is caught on CCTV apparently assaulting one of the slaves he was said to pay less than 5 a day
Savage: The work was monotonous, arduous and often humiliating, and they were controlled by discipline and violence
The workers were given alcohol and cannabis but so little food they resorted to scavenging from dustbins for leftovers.
Some were effectively forced to work
for the family for 30 years, and many were beaten, hit with broom
handles, belts, a rake and a shovel, and punched and kicked for
displeasing their masters.
One worker had a hosepipe shoved down his throat and the men were often made to strip for a ‘hosing down’ with freezing water.
Luxury lifestyle: William and Mary (or Breda) Connors, pictured in Dubai, lived the high life while forcing vulnerable people to obey their every command
They told police they were unable to escape because they had too little money to afford train tickets.
Called ‘the dossers’ by their masters, those who did try to slip away were usually soon rounded up.
Yesterday, a jury unanimously
convicted William ‘Big boss’ Connors, 52, his wife Mary, 48, their sons
John, 29, and James, 20, and their son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, of
conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
There was such screaming and uproar
from relatives in the public gallery at Bristol Crown Court that the
judge ordered security guards to clear the room.
Police began investigating the
defendants – most of whom gave home addresses in Staverton,
Gloucestershire, with Miles being listed as from Bradford – following
the discovery of the decomposed body of worker Christopher Nicholls, 40,
in a shed close to a Gloucestershire caravan site in 2008.
He had been involved in a serious road
accident four years earlier. And in 2009 one unnamed worker told
detectives he’d had his identity documents taken and was rarely paid and
received little food.
The specific offence of which the
family were found guilty came into law only in April 2010, which is why
the charges against them dated between that month and March 2011, when
police raided sites in Staverton, Enderby and Mansfield in
Nottinghamshire, rescuing 19 workers.
The family maintained the men were
‘free agents’, with William and Mary claiming they were ‘good
Samaritans’ providing the homeless with food, work and shelter.
In practice the men were often given
just 5 a day for heavy labour and emptying toilet buckets. And violence
was an ever-present threat.
Prosecutor Christopher Quinlan QC said
the violence was ‘a clear and unequivocal demonstration of control and
dominance, of one set, the family, over another’.
While their team of workers lived
crammed together in just a few squalid caravans, the family had several
other spotless caravans, which appeared unlived in – with toilets even
used for storing wads of cash.
Cruel: Son-in-law Miles Connors, left, and William and Mary's sons John and James were all involved in the family racket
William and Mary Connors picked up the drifters and forced them into hard labour for the benefit of the family
Police raid: Bizarrely, the Connors kept money in a toilet at one of their caravans
VIDEO: CCTV footage of traveller William Connors assaulting a worker
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The family’s property portfolio is potentially now worth millions of pounds, with holdings including two caravan parks.
Police now plan to seize the family’s
assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act legislation. They will also seek
to prevent them from tarmacking and paving drives in the future with a
Serious Crime Prevention Order.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave
Sellwood, who led the investigation, said senior detectives were too
appalled by the workers’ conditions to set foot inside their caravans,
adding: ‘I have never seen one group of human beings treat another group
so badly for so long just for their financial benefit.’
The five family members have been remanded in custody to be sentenced on Tuesday.
Cramped: Workers were made to live in caravans owned the Connors family, who had purchased several sites
Shocking: The Connors reportedly supplied workers, pictured, with cannabis while depriving them of enough food to keep them subservient
Callous: The slaves travelled around the country working for the Connors family business and living in a corner of one of the family's caravan parks
Keeping up appearances: John Connors with the family's patio company workers at a construction site – but many were being forced into slave labour
Marketing: A flyer advertising the Connors family drive and patio service features a landline telephone number in order to look more professional
'I'VE NEVER SEEN HUMAN BEINGS ACT LIKE THIS', SAYS DETECTIVE
William and Mary Connors (pictured below on a cruise) lived the high life while their workers were treated
appallingly, said the detective who led the investigation into the family.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Sellwood, of Gloucestershire Police, said: 'The
Connors caravans were beautiful, they were absolutely pristine, they
were new, without exception, and in absolutely immaculate condition.
'In most cases the cookers had never been used, the toilets had never been used. They lived a very good life.'
plan to launch an investigation into the Connors' wealth and to use
Proceeds of Crime Act legislation to seize their assets.
'They are very wealthy,' said Mr Sellwood. '[Billy] has been to Dubai, Cancun and to the USA. This criminal operation is not about getting by and scraping a living.
'I have never seen one group of human beings treat another group so badly for so long just for their financial benefit.'
Mr Sellwood said even hardened detectives were shocked by the raids in March last year.
'Having observed accounts from people that got away from them, we understood that they would be living in poor conditions.
actually some of the conditions were far worse. I brought some of my
officers along to see first-hand the conditions that these workers were
living in because I knew I was going to find it was impossible to
'This was a
group of very experienced senior detectives and none of them were
prepared to set foot inside either of the two caravans and certainly
when I did set foot in them I wasn't prepared to touch any of the
Mr Sellwood added: 'The
evidence that we have heard in court is just a proportion of the
information that is available to the police in terms of the treatment
that the Connors handed out.
two assaults that we did catch on video, one was on a 17-year-old man
with learning difficulties, the other an older gentleman that had been
with them for about 11 years.
'He is currently incapable of living alone and is in supported accommodation and will be for the rest of his life. I think that is an example of the Connors' treatment of very vulnerable men.'
Different world: The Connors owned 170,000 caravan park Willowdene, pictured, and Hayden Laurels, which was bought in July 2007 for 390,000
Luxury cars: The family had a silver A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van
LIFE IN THE CONNORS' CLUTCHES
The vulnerable men working for the Connors family were forced to live in squalor, carry out menial tasks and work in hard and often freezing conditions.
They were usually homeless, alcoholics or drug addicts and they were used as cheap labour for the Connors’ paving and patio businesses.
Oliver was picked up by Miles Connors, William, pictured below centre with labourers at a construction site, and Mary Connors son-in-law, in March 2010 and lived on traveller sites in the Midlands and in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
A recovering alcoholic, he did not want to reveal his full identity, but told ITV West: 'They were keeping us rock bottom and giving us just enough to survive on, supplying us with alcohol, supplying us with cannabis.
'Not eating enough, the coldness, the emptying of the slop buckets for them… they never did anything for themselves – it was horrible.
'It was a low point for me, but when I first met the man he promised me that he could help.'
Oliver’s work was monotonous and unrelenting and he was often controlled by violence.
'I did actually witness one of them hitting somebody with a shovel,' he said. 'Maybe he said something wrong to him, maybe he was complaining – that was the treatment you got if you complained.'
When asked why he and the other workers did not leave, he maintained 'it was a lot harder to do than that'. Some men who left were rounded up and brought back.
'I did actually escape myself once, but it is hard to do,' said Oliver, who is in his 40s. 'You don’t have any money, you can’t go to the train station and get a train ticket – you have no money to do anything like that – so the only thing you know is best go back.'
Oliver was rescued with four other workers when police raided a traveller site at Kirk Lane, Enderby, Leicestershire, on March 22 last year and arrested Miles Connors.
'Slowly but surely it is leaving my head, it is always going to be there, but I’m starting to live back in a normal life again,' he said.
Selfish: The family spent their cash on luxury holidays, caravan parks and hot tubs while treating their workers like dogs