If you thought slavery was abolished in 1833, think again. Thursday, four members of a family of so-called travellers were convicted at Luton Crown Court of holding four men as slaves, one of them for up to 15 years.
The only good thing about this terrible case is that those convicted are not Englishmen, but so-called travellers of Irish extraction - which is of course no good news at all.
This case is by no means unique, there have been occasional cases over the past few years, including that of research scientist Dr Rebecca Balira, who was convicted at Southwark Crown Court last August of treating her servant like a slave. Do people still have servants nowadays? Staff, that sounds better.
Odious though the behaviour of Dr Balira may have been, it pales into insignificance when compared with the treatment meted out to the victims in this truly shocking, terrible case.
The name of the head of the family, Tommy Connors, appears first on the BBC website in connection not with slavery and abuse but with rogue trading, in particular ripping off old people in connection with their trade, laying driveways and such. This is the sort of thing that has been exposed for years by the BBC, including its specialist reporter Dominic Littlewood. Connors and his wife Mary were arrested on February 22, 2006, but after appearing in court for what was scheduled to be an 11 week trial in January 2007, there was no further mention.
Josie Connors, a modern day slaver.
Nor is there any mention in the NewsUK on-line database (which is not part of the Internet). Doubtless, more information will emerges shortly, but it seems most likely that this trial was abandoned when these far more serious offences came to light.
In September of last year, the BBC reported that a number of arrests had been at a Leighton Buzzard caravan site in connection with an investigation into slavery.
The victims were all men who were down on their luck, homeless and such, who had been recruited by the Connors family who promised them work with good pay and accommodation. The work materialised; the accommodation was squalid with no proper facilities, no hot water, and a diet that would embarrass a concentration camp commandant. At the trial, one of the victims made this analogy.
On October 3 last year, Bedfordshire Police reported that Operation Netwinghad led to Connors facing 11 charges.
Although only thirteen men were rescued from the squalid site, there is intelligent speculation that many more had been held as slaves and virtual prisoners.
The trial at Luton Crown Court lasted for 13 weeks, and yesterday, after a week of deliberations, the jury convicted four members of the family including Tommy Connors Senior of subjecting vulnerable people to servitude and forced labour. The accused included one woman; the men were also convicted of assault. Incredibly, their barrister tried to play the race card, suggesting the police investigation was motivated by prejudice. It is more likely though that the police were simply revolted by the skeletal conditions of the victims, who were made to work six days a week from early morning until late at night.
The question doesn't appear to have been asked in the media, but doubtless the police have considered it, that is, have any of the family's victims suffered an even worse fate?
They have not yet been sentenced; doubtless Judge Michael Kay QC will want to give this some serious deliberation. Something else he might consider is making an order under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002. This Draconian instrument (civil asset forfeiture) has been abused widely in the UK and elsewhere, but even the death penalty has its place, and in this case it is appropriate not only that the Connors family be penalised financially, but that some of their ill-found wealth should be given to their victims as compensation, both for the work they were forced to perform and for the suffering they endured.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com