Three sentenced for forced labour and fraud - Oxfordshire

31/08/2016

Three people appeared at Reading Crown Court today, Wednesday, 31 August 2016, and were sentenced to a combined total of 49 months imprisonment for forced labour and fraud offences.

Christopher Joyce, aged 82, and his daughters Mary Joyce, aged 60, and Helen Collins, aged 46, of Redbridge Hollow, Old Abingdon Road, Oxford, were sentenced today after being found guilty on 05 July this year, after a 4-week trial at Oxford Crown Court of requiring a man to perform forced or compulsory labour. They were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud after a trial at the same court in November last year.

Christopher Joyce and Mary Joyce were each sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for the forced labour offence and 21 months imprisonment for conspiracy to defraud, to be served concurrently. They were also given a restraining order and a slavery prevention order.

Helen Collins was sentenced to seven months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay £2,000 in compensation.

The forced labour offence took place between 6 April 2010 and 9 February 2015, when the three defendants required a 52-year-old man to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The victim lived in a brick shed on the Redbridge Hollow site which was described as unfit for human habitation. He was made to undertake heavy manual labour, working for more than 12-hours a day, for which he was paid £5 a day. Meanwhile, the defendants were applying for, and collecting, his benefits a total of £139,000 from 2002 to 2015.

The victim sustained physical injuries over the years including a serious injury to his arm from trying to lift a heavy washing machine and he dislocated his shoulder five times over the course of three and a half years.

Despite the injuries, he was still required to keep working. If he did not perform his tasks to the defendants' satisfaction, he was assaulted.

Although he attempted to leave Redbridge Hollow site, he either returned because he felt he had nowhere else to go or because he felt scared and intimidated by the people he lived with, and on some occasions he was threatened or brought back to the site forcibly.

Adrian Foster, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "This case involved the forced/compulsory labour of a 52-year-old man at two travellers' sites in Oxford for 5 years, by three people.

"Christopher Joyce and his daughters Mary Joyce and Helen Collins denied any wrongdoing, but on Tuesday, 05 July 2016, after a 4-week trial at Oxford Crown Court they were found guilty of requiring another person to perform forced/compulsory labour between April 2010-February 2015, despite their denials.

"The offences involved the serious mistreatment of a vulnerable man, who had little option but to continue to work for them, because he was trapped by his personal circumstances. They used intimidation, threats of violence and actual violence when unhappy with his work, to prevent the victim leaving them or from alerting the authorities to their mistreatment. They forced him to work very long hours by requiring him to perform menial tasks and manual labour such as collecting scrap metal, cleaning tools and maintenance, for little and sometimes no money and took advantage of his vulnerability and inability to protest in doing so. In effect they treated him like a skivvy.

"The three defendants also opened an account in the victim's name without his knowledge and claimed various benefits on his behalf for almost 13 years amounting to a substantial sum of money, which was paid into this account; money the victim was unaware of. These offences were financially motivated, allowing them to live in relative luxury while the victim was provided with the most basic living standards possible. They were found unanimously guilty of conspiracy to defraud on 16 November 2015, by a jury, at the conclusion of the first trial.

"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.

"It is shocking to hear that offences such as these 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 without delay.

"The victim has been supported throughout the case by a number of agencies since his escape, which I hope will give him an opportunity to rebuild his life. Our thoughts are very much with him at this time."

Senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Glover from the Major Crime Unit, said: "I hope that the sentence today signifies the end of an extremely distressing period for the victim and that he can finally move on with his life. He has been incredibly brave in speaking to police about what happened to him, and I am pleased that we have been able to secure this conviction and sentencing for him.

"I am grateful for the hard work of the Operation Stirling team and the support of everyone involved in the trial, as well as our partner agencies including Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire Council and Vale of White Horse District Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Crime Agency's UK Human Trafficking Centre, HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "A small number of criminals view our welfare system as free money there for the taking. These benefit thieves are cheating money out of hardworking taxpayers and stealing funds that should help the most vulnerable.

"People who commit organised fraud try to turn the welfare system into a money-making industry and our investigators are working closely with local councils and the police to bring these criminals to justice."