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  1. ITV Report

Family convicted of running modern slavery ring

Some eleven members of the same family have been convicted of running a modern slavery ring which targeted vulnerable and homeless men, with one victim held captive for 26 years.

The victims were forced to work for little or no wages, made to live in run-down caravans or in stables next to kennels, with little or no access to heating, water and toilets, and were threatened with violence if they disobeyed their captors.

The squalid conditions inside one of the caravans the victims lived in. Credit: Lincolnshire Police
The lavish house of 31-year-old Patrick Rooney was a far cry from the conditions the family's victims lived in. Credit: Lincolnshire Police

Meanwhile, the gang members lived a life of luxury, enjoying holidays to Barbados, Mexico and Australia, as well as spa days, cosmetic surgery, high-performance BMWs, and even using their ill-gotten gains to pay for a Manchester United football school.

The ten men and one woman were convicted of a mixture of fraud and slavery charges in a series of trials following raids by the police and National Crime Agency (NCA) on the Lincolnshire traveller sites in 2014.

Top from left: Bridget Rooney, Gerald Rooney, John Rooney, 53, John Rooney, 31. Middle from left: Lawrence Rooney, Martin Rooney, 35, Martin Rooney Snr, Martin Rooney, 23. Credit: Lincolnshire Police

Members of the Rooney family would go out looking for victims or the streets, hostels and shelters, offering food and accommodation.

In reality the clan targeted men who were homeless, had learning disabilities or complex drug and alcohol issues, and through a mixture of false promises, drugs, alcohol and violence, family members ensured their victims were "financially-trapped" and under their total control.

In total, 18 men aged between 18 and 63 were forced to work at sites in Drinsey Nook and Washingborough, or for the Rooneys' business, repairing properties and tarmacking drives.

Most of the victims told how they were never given safety equipment or the right clothing.

The police said victims were also "poorly fed" and often went hungry, or were given the "family's left-overs", even though they carried out manual labour for hours on end.

If victims complained, the gang would say they still owed money and would claim more labour to pay off the bogus debts.

The heartless gang provided alcohol and drugs as part of what prosecutors had described as a "grooming" process.

But as their hold on the victims increased, that illicit supply gave the clan an ever-tighter hold over their victims, including their bank accounts.

In some cases, the accounts were used to pay for gym memberships, soccer schools and building materials to supply the business.

From left: Patrick Rooney, 54, Patrick Rooney, 31, and Peter Doran. Credit: Lincolnshire Police

The Rooneys also used "threats" and "violence", including punishment beatings, and the victims were denied medical help for their injuries and ailments.

One victim - who was held captive by the family for 26 years - was ordered to dig his own grave and told "that's where you're going" if he did not sign a bogus work contract.

He also reported being beaten with a rake when he overslept, suffered broken teeth when he had a concrete slab thrown in his face, and according to his sister, was left "psychologically damaged" by his decades-long ordeal.

The impact on the victims was severe, with many suffering mental and physical torment during their "gruelling and emotional" ordeal, said police.

The gang also targeted vulnerable home-owners, coercing them into signing over properties to them which were then sold on for profit.

Some of the Rooneys targeted four elderly home-owners, getting them to sign over properties into their names and selling three on for profit - one for £250,000.

One of the householders ended up dying without his family knowing, and it was only when they were contacted by the police that they discovered they had missed his funeral.

Many of the victims did not have access to basics such as heating, water and toilets. Credit: Lincolnshire Police
While his victims used electricity 'dangerously' tapped from a nearby pylon, 31-year-old Patrick Rooney lived a life of luxury. Credit: Lincolnshire Police

The lavish lifestyles of the gang members were a far-cry from what Chief Superintendent Nikki Mayo, who led the investigation, described as the "suffering" inflicted on the men they employed.

She said: "The tragedy in this case is that the victims will never get those years of their lives back - we believe one man was held for 26 years.

"The severity and gravity of the charges speak for themselves.

"Modern slavery is a cruel and extremely demoralising crime and it's important that people understand that it isn't just forced labour like this - victims can be sexually exploited, or forced into committing crimes."

She added many of the victims "have now got their lives back".

When the traveller sites were raided in 2014, police found £100,000 worth of stolen property including four caravans, 70 packs of bricks, a labrador and gates from Lincoln's cemetery.

Those convicted in four separate trials at Nottingham Crown Court are:

The 11 convicted gang members were all part of the same family. Credit: Lincolnshire Police
  • John Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, Lincolnshire - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, conspiracy to defraud, fraud by false representation and two counts of theft
  • Patrick Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, fraud by abuse of position, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and two counts of theft
  • Bridget Rooney, 55, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour
  • Martin Rooney, 35, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield - conspiracy to defraud, two counts of converting criminal property
  • Martin Rooney, 57, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and unlawful wounding
  • Martin Rooney, 23, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm
  • Patrick Rooney, 54, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire - converting criminal property
  • John Rooney, 53, of Chantry Croft, Pontefract, Yorkshire - two counts of conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour
  • Peter Doran, 36, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour
  • Gerard Rooney, 46, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour
  • Lawrence Rooney, 47, currently in prison - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour