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Travellers Found Guilty In Slavery Trial
Four members of a traveller family have been found guilty of forcing destitute men into what amounts to modern-day slavery.
Tommy Senior, James John, Patrick and Josie Connors were convicted of controlling, exploiting and verbally abusing the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
During the trial, the jury at Luton Crown Court heard that the complainants, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work in the Connors' block paving business.
The 13-week trial heard that the men were allegedly given almost no food, forced to wash in cold water and were paid little or no money for working up to 19 hours a day, six days a week.
The Connors took homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics off the street and put them to work doing hard labour, six days a week with no pay. At the same time, they were kept in absolute squalor.
The slave masters were arrested after a police raid on a site near Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, last year.
Twenty-three men were "rescued" during that raid. One had been held for 15 years. When questioned, many told stories of being beaten and threatened by family members. They were told to work all hours laying driveways.
The Connors are thought to have made millions of pounds from their brutally-run paving business. Even on supposed days off, their captive labourers were made to clean their masters' yards and homes.
Among those who gave evidence during the trial was a Gulf War veteran. Some of those picked up by the family members with promise of work and somewhere to stay were recruited from soup kitchens.
One victim was held for seven years by Josie and James John. He was picked up at a motorway services while contemplating suicide. He told police that his life had become "just beatings, starvation and work".
The other man that husband and wife James John and Josie were convicted of holding, escaped after just a few months. He told the court his captors had told him if he tried to escape they would get another worker to murder him.
The man Tommy Senior and Patrick were convicted of using as a slave had been held for five years. He had a drink problem, he was promised pay of £30 a day but quickly realised he would not be paid.
When their victims were taken back to the Connors' compound they had their heads shaved, all possessions and ID taken away, and were told they had a new family and a new life. They were instructed to call those holding them "mum" and "dad".
Once freed, doctors found evidence on many men of broken ankles, ribs and wrists that had gone untreated. Many had suffered from scabies and scurvy. They also showed signs of malnutrition.
While the "slaves" were made to sleep in filthy conditions, crowded into caravans, sheds and even a horsebox, their masters were living in luxury.
During the trial the court heard disturbing accounts of the men's lives. Some were allowed to take a shower only once a month, and never had a change of clothes. Their accommodation was filthy and cold.
On some occasions the men were just given one meal per day. Even then, they were told they had five minutes in which to eat.
They were threatened that if they ran away another worker would be ordered to murder them. If they spoke out they were punched, kicked and beaten with broom handles.
When the man who had been held for 15 years was rescued and driven away by the police he received a phone call from Tommy Senior. The former captive's demeanour was said to have completely changed afterwards, he was visibly shaking and looked terrified.
The court was told Tommy Senior told the man: "Tell 'em we're family and tell 'em you're happy, come back to the site."
Even the most loyal and obedient slaves were still treated appallingly. The court heard that one was beaten so often he was "used like a human punch bag".
The four defendants will be sentenced on Thursday and a decision will also be made about a number of other charges on which the jury failed to reach a verdict.