Traveller Family Jailed Over Forced Labour

Isabel Webster, West of England Correspondent

Five members of a traveller family have been jailed for a total of 18 years after being found guilty of forcing vulnerable men to work for them.

The Connors family enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays. But to live the high life, they 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 the buckets used as toilets by their bosses.

William Connors, 52, was jailed for six and a half years and his wife Mary, 48, received a sentence of two years and three months.

The couple's son, John, 29, was jailed for four years. Their other son James, 20, got three years detention in a young offender institution. Son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, received a three year prison sentence.

They were all convicted last week at Bristol Crown Court of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial.

Mary and her daughters wept as the judge told them they had "exploited" the vulnerable who had chosen "one form of extreme deprivation over another".

Mary walked free after the sentencing due to time she has already served.

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.

The men were paid as little as £5 for a day's hard labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands of pounds.

They were given so little food that they resorted to scavenging from rubbish bins at supermarkets.

In contrast, the Connors lived in large and well-appointed caravans fitted with luxury kitchens and flat-screen televisions.

William and Mary, known as Billy and Brida, enjoyed exotic holidays, including Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean on the Cunard flagship liner Queen Mary 2.

The family also spent the spoils of their enterprise on breaks to Tenerife and Cancun in Mexico.

As well as holidays, they drove around in cars including an A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls-Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick-up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van, and had built up a mounting property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds.

Detective Chief Inspector David Selwood, from Gloucestershire Police, said: "Billy Connors is a greedy and arrogant man. This was all about making him a lot of money.

"He could have been a drug dealer or a robber but his criminality was exploiting vulnerable men ... Offering the most vulnerable in society hope and then abusing their trust and making a fortune out of them."

Sixteen vulnerable men were liberated by police following covert surveillance of the family.

It is thought 37 men passed through the Connors' hands over several decades.

DCI Selwood added: "They're trying to move on with their lives but they still live in fear. They fear that William or John will turn up and tap them on the shoulder and say they're going to live with that fear for many years.

"Hopefully now they're locked up it will give them reassurance."