Beds, Herts & Bucks

Connors servitude case: More than 100 people may have been held

Tommy Connors Sr and Patrick Connors
Image caption Tommy Connors Sr and Patrick Connors were jailed at Luton Crown Court

More than 100 people may have been held in captivity and forced to work by a Bedfordshire family, police claim.

On Tuesday Tommy Connors Sr, 53, was jailed for eight years and his son Patrick, 21, for five years, at Luton Crown Court.

The men, from near Leighton Buzzard, were convicted last July of servitude, compulsory labour and assault charges.

The Crown Prosecution Service said there may be other similar cases of servitude in operation in the UK.

Police say the Connors family made "huge sums of money" from keeping people with "nowhere else to turn" in servitude at Green Acres site in Little Billington.

£3m in assets

Those held were made to lay block paving or complete domestic chores for no pay.

Describing the conditions in which they were kept, one of the victims said: "They treated me like a slave and that's putting it mildly."

Prosecutors say they have already seized about £1m from the Connors family and identified a further £2m in assets.

The daughter of Tommy Connors Sr and her husband, both travellers, have also been convicted of keeping vulnerable men in servitude and requiring them to perform forced labour.

Image caption Numerous men were held at the Green Acres travellers' site near Leighton Buzzard

James John Connors, 34, and Josie Connors, 31, were jailed for 11 years and four years respectively at the trial last year. James John Connors - known as "Big Jim" - was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Speaking after the sentencing this week, Det Insp Sharn Basra said: "We believe more than 100 people could have passed through the site over the years and there is no telling how much money Tommy Senior, Patrick, James-John and Josie made from forcing people to work for them.

"When we entered the Greenacres site in September 2011, we found victims who had been with members of the Connors family for more than 15 years and some who had been with them for only a few hours.

"The victims were afraid, living in squalid conditions, had no money or belongings, some suffered from malnutrition whilst others had old fracture wounds that hadn't healed properly and one man even had scurvy.

'Slave-like conditions'

"In stark contrast, Tommy Sr, Patrick, James-John and Josie Connors were living in almost palatial residences, had access to whatever they needed or wanted and were free to do as they pleased."

Baljit Ubhey, chief crown prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service, said: "It is shocking to hear that such offences can occur in modern times, but this case may not in fact be unique."

Liam Vernon, head of the UK Human Trafficking Centre at the Serious Organised Crime Agency, said: "This is a stark example of an appalling type of exploitation and slave-like conditions that can be seen in the UK.

"Last year there were 529 adults and children referred to the centre.

"They were being controlled and used for their labour and servitude in a whole range of different ways, all for the financial gain of the traffickers."

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