Connors victim traumatised by life of forced labour
HAUNTED by the traumatic experience of a year in the grip of the Connors, one worker is trying to rebuild his life.
"Oliver" says he still suffers panic attacks when he hears an Irish accent or sees a white van in the street.
He is terrified of being hunted down and drawn back into the life he wants to leave behind.
The 47-year-old was picked up by Miles Connors. An alcoholic of 16 years, he was promised help to turn his life around.
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Days later, the realisation of the world in which he became trapped began to take hold.
"He put me in a caravan for three days to sober up. That is when it started," he said.
"A week later, I realised what day-to-day life would be like. We would go off to work on a site from 6am to whenever we finished, six or seven days a week. It was horrible, a terrible life."
Oliver would spend hours on his own, working on driveways with a pick and shovel, or waiting in his squalid caravan for the next job to come in.
He described his caravan at the Beggars Roost site in Staverton as a "death trap", with no heating or electricity. Any complaints went ignored by his masters.
"They totally ignored it, if you complained too much you knew a beating wasn't far away," he said.
"It was not a normal working practice. They would drop you off and you wouldn't see them again all day. They stopped us trying to mix with other people."
The threat of violence hung over the men constantly.
When the occasional beating was handed out, the men were left in no doubt as to who was in control.
Oliver said beaten men were hidden away to recover from their injuries.
"I did see violence," said Oliver.
"I've seen one lad who took a beating, who I thought had escaped, but had been knocked about. On one occasion, I witnessed one of the Connors hit a man with a shovel for complaining. That was the treatment you got.
"If something didn't go their way, there was always comeback. It is harder than just getting up and walking off."
Oliver did try to walk off one day. He jumped on a train with the hope of returning home.
When he was kicked off by ticket inspectors in Leeds, he was soon spotted by his angry boss.
"Once you are sucked into the system it is very difficult to withdraw," he said. "They have a big hold on you. It is a period of my life I want to forget.
"I am at the end of that chapter.
"No food, the cold, the emptying of their slop buckets and clearing up vomit from the side of caravans – all of it was a low point. They were keeping people at rock bottom."
Oliver is receiving support to end his alcohol addiction and is trying to turn his life around. He is back in touch with his family and enjoying life as a granddad.