A HUSBAND and wife who treated destitute men “worse than slaves” by forcing them into servitude have been jailed for a total of 15 years.
James John, 34, and Josie Connors, 31, both members of a traveller family, “brutally manipulated and exploited” the men for money from a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Sentencing John to 11 years in jail and Connors to a four-year term at Luton Crown Court yesterday, Judge Michael Kay QC said: “The way in which these defendants, for their own financial benefit, brutally manipulated and exploited men who are already plumbing the depths of despair is pure evil.
“Their behaviour is profoundly at odds with the moral code of the religion they profess.
“Their complete disdain for the dignity and fundamental rights of fellow human beings is shocking. They were not Good Samaritans seeking to assist their fellow man in his hour of need but violent, cold-hearted exploiters of his frailties and ill-fortune.”
The couple lured the destitute men to their caravan site with the promise of money for work in their paving business. But they subjected them to abuse while forcing them to live in squalid conditions with hardly any food and no means of washing.
Judge Kay described their “promise of pay” as “a monstrous and callous deceit”.
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. 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.
The victims’ heads were shaved and they were at the “beck and call” of their bosses at all times. Their caravan, without a toilet or washing facilities, was “at times unsuitable for human habitation and was cramped and squalid”, the judge said.
During the 13-week trial, the jury heard the victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work up to 19 hours a day. One man described being treated “like a slave” as he was forced to work from 5am to around 9pm on driveway work and then had to clean the Connors’ caravan to “an immaculate condition”.
Connor’s brother Johnny, 28, walked free from court after the jury cleared him of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and the prosecution offered no evidence on a further count of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
The judge ordered a retrial next year for four other defendants on whom the jury could not reach verdicts.
Proceeds of crime hearings against John and Connors will be heard at a later date.