Members of a traveller family who ran a modern slavery ring targeting vulnerable people in Lincolnshire have been jailed for a total of 79 years.
Nottingham Crown Court heard that the Rooney family were “chilling in their mercilessness” towards victims, who were beaten and left without running water and sanitation in squalid conditions.
A total of 11 relatives – 10 men and one woman – were convicted for modern slavery and fraud offences.
The Rooney family ran a driveway resurfacing company, illegally bringing 18 men to properties in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and London and forcing them to work. Members of the gang sought out targets in the streets, hostels and shelters, offering work for food and accommodation at sites in Drinsey Nook and Washingborough, then used false promises, drugs, alcohol and violence to entrap them.
Many of the victims, aged between 18 and 63, were homeless, while others had learning disabilities or complex drug and alcohol issues. One man had been working for the family for 26 years.
While the gang members lived in luxurious homes, bought high-performance cars and enjoyed holidays to Barbados and cosmetic surgery, their slaves were kept in squalid caravans or kennels, with little access to heating, water and toilets. Some were forced to squat in woods behind their living areas, while electricity was “dangerously” tapped from a nearby pylon.
Judge Timothy Spencer QC told the head of the family, Martin Rooney Senior, that the gulf between the lives of his relatives and their workers was “like the gulf between medieval royalty and peasantry”. He said the victims had been “stripped of dignity and humanity, and confined to a life of drudgery” that they had no way of escaping.
When the victims were eventually freed during raids by Lincolnshire Police and the National Crime Agency in 2014, they were found to be undernourished and told officers they were given the family’s left-overs after hours of manual labour.
If victims complained, the Rooneys would say they owed money and claim more labour to pay off the supposed debts, while providing alcohol and drugs as part of what prosecutors had described as a “grooming” process.
They also used threats and violence, including punishment beatings, and victims were denied medical help for their injuries and illness. One man said “life with the Rooneys was a living hell”, while the court heard that another was beaten with a shovel for returning a car with no petrol.
The abuse allowed the gang to tighten their hold over their victims and their bank accounts, which were used to fund their own indulgent lifestyles.
Some of the Rooneys also targeted four elderly homeowners, getting them to sign over properties into their names and selling three on for profits of up to £250,000.
Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, Head of Crime for Lincolnshire Police, said: “The severity of these crimes is underlined by the sentences imposed by the judge.
“The victims will never get the years back that were taken away from them but I hope this provides them with some comfort that justice has been served and demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to try and stop others suffering in the ways that they did.
“We will not rest on this result as there are potentially other victims of modern slavery in our county.”
Police said modern slavery could take many forms, including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, fraudulent activity or criminal exploitation and have issued guidance to help spot victims.
The case also revealed that family members owed more than £97,300 to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in unpaid income tax and VAT through illegal trading.
Simon York, director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said it would bring the full force of government sanctions against abusers to strip them of their illegal assets.
“This was a truly appalling case,” he added. “These people lived a life of luxury by exploiting and abusing highly vulnerable individuals. They stripped them of their humanity, forcing them to live and work in terrible conditions.”
- John Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, Lincolnshire, jailed for 15 years and six months for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, conspiracy to defraud, fraud by false representation and two counts of theft.
- Patrick Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby jailed for 15 years and nine months for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, fraud by abuse of position, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and two counts of theft.
- Bridget Rooney, 55, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, jailed for seven years for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
- Martin Rooney, 35, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield, received for two years suspended for two years for conspiracy to defraud, two counts of converting criminal property.
- Martin Rooney, 57, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, jailed for 10 years and nine months for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and unlawful wounding.
- Martin Rooney, 23, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, jailed for six years and nine months for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
- Patrick Rooney, 54, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, received 12 moths suspended for two years converting criminal property.
- John Rooney, 53, of Chantry Croft, Pontefract, Yorkshire, jailed for five years and 10 months for two counts of conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
- Peter Doran, 36, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln, jailed for six years for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
- Gerard Rooney, 46, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln, jailed for six years for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
- Lawrence Rooney, 47, currently in prison, jailed for six years for conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.