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  1. ITV Report

Travellers jailed for forced labour

Five members of the Connors family have been jailed today. Photo: Gloucestershire Constabulary

Five members of the same traveller family from Cheltenham who lived a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable men forced to work for a pittance were all jailed today.

William Connors, 52, was jailed for six and a half years and his wife Mary, 48, received a sentence of two years and three months.

The couple's son, John, 29, was jailed for four years. Their other son James, 20, got three years detention in a young offender institution.

Son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, received a three year prison sentence.

They were all convicted last week at Bristol Crown Court of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial.

They had also faced a second charge of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude but the trial judge Michael Longman ordered the jury to find the defendants not guilty of that offence.

The workforce lived in squalid conditions in old caravans at Beggars Roost in Cheltenham. Credit: Gloucestershire Constabulary

The Connors enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays and, to live the high life, the family picked up men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers.

The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites as they moved around the country working in the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Some were also ordered to perform humiliating tasks, such as emptying the buckets used as toilets by their bosses.

Their work was monotonous, arduous and unrelenting, and they were controlled by discipline and violence.

Some of the men - called "dossers" by the Connors - had worked for the family for nearly two decades.

Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.

Covert filming showed William Connors beating a 17-year-old who had learning difficulties. Credit: Gloucestershire Constabulary

The men were paid as little as £5 for a day's hard labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands pounds.

They were given so little food that they resorted to scavenging from rubbish bins at supermarkets.

In contrast, the Connors grew fat on the spoils of their hard labour and lived in large and well-appointed caravans fitted with luxury kitchens and flat-screen televisions.

William and Mary, known as Billy and Brida, enjoyed exotic holidays, including Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean on the Cunard flagship liner Queen Mary 2.

The family also spent the spoils of their enterprise on breaks to Tenerife and Cancun in Mexico.

As well as holidays, they drove around in top-of-the-range cars, including a silver A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls-Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick-up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van, and had built up a mounting property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds.

Their bank accounts contained more than £500,000.

Also working on the family business were sons John and James - known as Johnny and Jimmy - and Miles Connors, known as Miley, who is married to William and Mary's daughter Bridget.

A year long investigation including a five month surveillance operation by Gloucestershire Constabulary culminated in March 2011 when officers carried out warrants at sites in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire and 19 vulnerable people were rescued.

The family maintained the men were "free agents" able to come and go as they please and William and Mary suggested they acted as "good Samaritans" by providing them with food, work and accommodation.

What each of the workers had in common was that, when they first met the Connors, they were unemployed and addicted to alcohol.

Most were homeless, relying on hostels or night shelters at best for their accommodation.

Some suffered from mental health difficulties.

All were vulnerable in some way and it was this vulnerability which was exploited by the defendants for their own commercial gain.

– Judge Longman, passing sentence at Bristol Crown Court

Rebecca Broxton reports from outside Bristol Crown Court: