Connors case - police fears for other forced labour gangs
POLICE who investigated the Connors family believe similar forced labour gangs are at work across the country.
Gloucestershire officers will now use the lessons learnt during the case to help other police forces around the country.
A two-year operation by police with months of surveillance culminated with unanimous guilty verdicts for all five defendants in the Connors case.
Family head Billy Connors, 51, Mary, 48, James, 20, John, 29, and Miles Connors, 24, are serving combined sentences of 18 years for conspiring with each other to require other persons to perform forced or compulsory labour.
They were cleared of a charge of servitude during the trial.
Leading officer Detective Chief Inspector David Sellwood explained the difficulties in bringing the family to justice.
"With slavery charges, one person has to be owned by another and that is very difficult to prove," he said.
"Slavery, as 200 years ago when people were bought and sold, was always going to be a huge hurdle for us to get over."
Officers from Operation Tundra sprung the Connors racket in March 2011 during a raid on Beggars Roost in Bamfurlong.
The investigation and prosecution was the first of its kind.
"It would be a surprise if this was not happening elsewhere in the country," said DCI Sellwood.
"We decided to undertake the surveillance operation as we anticipated the vulnerable men would be difficult to witness and hard to get evidence from, and that is how it was proved.
"All the men are delighted with the verdicts and they are trying to move on with their lives. They are coming on, most of them are managing to move on.
"A couple of the men, in particular one man who has been with the Connors for around 30 years is finding it too difficult.
"He knows nothing else and he cannot sort out another life for himself."
During the course of the investigation, police identified 37 men who passed through the hands of the Connors. Of those, they rescued 16 but the others had come and gone.
Although James Connors was just 17 when police began investigating the family, DCI Sellwood did not accept the defence he was merely following in his father's footsteps. Billy Connors' wife, Breda, was also equally to blame, he said.
"The boys were brought up to do this with their father," he said. "Some of the photos we recovered showed them working with their father as young boys going back 15 to 20 years out on driveways.
"Breda is as guilty as the others. These men were at her beck and call constantly and she benefited from the income they generated from the work they did with her husband.
"We are going to be pursuing the Connors under the Proceeds of Crime Act. We would hope to take most of their assets from them."