Get involved! Send your photos, video, news & views by texting COUNTY GAZETTE to 80360 or email us
Couple jailed over forced labour
A husband and wife who "brutally manipulated and exploited" destitute men by forcing them into servitude have been jailed for 11 years and four years respectively.
James John, 34, and Josie Connors, 31, who are both members of a traveller family, were convicted of controlling, exploiting and abusing the men for financial gain at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Sentencing them at Luton Crown Court, Judge Michael Kay QC said: "The way they brutally manipulated and exploited men is pure evil. It is at odds with the moral code of the religion they profess to hold.
"Their disdain for the dignity of others is shocking. They were not Good Samaritans but violent, cold, hard exploiters."
The couple, who are also cousins, had both denied two counts of holding a person in servitude and two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. James John, also known as Big Jim, was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The prosecution offered no evidence on a battery charge after the jury failed to reach a verdict on it.
During the trial, the jury heard that the complainants, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work in the Connors' block paving business. The 13-week case trial heard the men were given next to no food, forced to wash in cold water and paid little or no money for working up to 19 hours a day.
One man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described a life of being treated "like a slave". He was recruited in 2004 when John James saw him in a "distressed state" in a service station, the judge said.
"He was an alcoholic. In three months he was weaned off alcohol. Your purpose was to put him to work. After he was rescued by police he was reluctant to speak about what had happened, his mind had been manipulated. Even though he was considerably older than both of you he believed you were his surrogate parents," Judge Kay said.
The man had to work from 5am to around 9pm on driveway work and then had to clean the Connors' caravan to "an immaculate condition". The judge added: "He said he was beaten and practically starved, he was punched, kicked and hit with a broom handle."