Operation Netwing sentencing - Bedfordshire

07/05/2013

Two members of the Connors family who were found guilty in July 2012 of offences relating to servitude, compulsory labour and assault charges have today, Tuesday, 07 May 2013, appeared at Luton Crown Court and have been jailed for a total of 13 years.

Tommy Connors (Senior), 53, of Greenacres, Little Billington, Leighton Buzzard, had been found guilty of one count of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, one count of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and one count of assault. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Patrick Connors, 21, also of Greenacres, Little Billington, Leighton Buzzard, had been found guilty of one count of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, one count of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and one count of assault. He was jailed for five years.

Baljit Ubhey OBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "Today's sentences conclude a lengthy and detailed investigation by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit (MCU).  The Thames and Chiltern CPS Complex Casework Unit (CCU) has worked closely with them since this investigation was launched.

"Tommy Senior, Patrick, James-John and Josie Connors have been found guilty of offences involving the serious mistreatment of vulnerable people who had little option but to continue to work for them, because they were trapped by their personal circumstances. These four members of the Connors family used threats of violence and actual violence to prevent the victims leaving them or from alerting the authorities to their treatment. They forced them to work very long hours in their block paving business or doing their domestic chores when they were not working. They failed to pay them for their work and took advantage of their vulnerability and inability to protest in doing so.

"The offences were financially motivated, allowing these members of the Connors family to live in relative luxury while many of their victims were provided with the most basic and cramped living standards possible. The prosecution team have restrained in the region of £1million from them and identified a further £2million of assets and the court will now consider questions of compensation and confiscation arising from these convictions.

"This case highlights the fact that both the police and the CPS are committed to securing justice even in the most difficult circumstances and for the most vulnerable members of our society.

"The victims have been supported throughout the case by a number of agencies since their release which I hope will give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Our thoughts are very much with all of them at this time.

"It is shocking to hear that such offences can occur in modern times, but this case may not in fact be unique. Any members of the public who are concerned that a member of their family or their friends may have been subjected to similar treatment should contact their local police or report the matters anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

Speaking after the sentencing of Tommy Connors Senior and Patrick Connors, Detective Inspector Sharn Basra from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit said: "The victims in this case were targeted by Tommy Senior and Patrick Connors, as well as James-John and Josie Connors, as they were vulnerable, had dependencies on drink or drugs, were homeless and basically had nowhere else to turn. These were individuals who were not missed and became conditioned to the control of these Connors family members who exploited them to make huge sums of money.

"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 while others had old fracture wounds that hadn't healed properly and one man even had scurvy. In stark contrast, Tommy Senior, Patrick, James-John and Josie Connors were living in almost palatial residencies, had access to whatever they needed or wanted and were free to do as they pleased.

"Having spoken to the victims, we believe that 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.

"I hope that the victims can now begin moving on with their lives and that these sentences send a clear message that behaviour of this nature is completely unacceptable and that we will rigorously investigate and bring to justice anyone who behaves in such a manner."

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.

"The victims in this case were clearly deeply affected by their experience, and it is to their credit that they had the courage to work with the authorities. Without them, Tommy Senior, Patrick, James-John and Josie Connors would still be free to ruthlessly exploit more vulnerable men.

"Our officers are proud to have played their part in the rescue of these victims, bringing to justice the offenders, and preventing others from falling prey to them. We will continue to work with our partners to support victims of all forms of trafficking and protect vulnerable members of our society."

The sentencing took place after the jury in the re-trial of Tommy Connors Senior and Patrick Connors, along with Tommy Connors, 27, and James Connors, 25, both of Greenacres, Little Billington, Leighton Buzzard, failed to reach verdicts.  The four had faced charges of conspiring to hold a person in servitude and conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour at their travellers site near Leighton Buzzard.

Due to the hung jury, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a further re-trial and submitted no evidence against the four defendants.