DUBLIN -- Five members of an Irish family who enjoyed lavish lifestyles from the proceeds of forced labor were jailed in England on Wednesday following a three-month trial.
Bristol Crown Court heard harrowing details of how the family enticed mentally ill, alcoholic and homeless men to work in their paving and patio business based in Bedford, England, for as little as $8 a day. They kept the men in filthy trailers and also forced them to perform menial tasks like cleaning the family's toilets. At times, the men were so hungry they resorted to scavenging for food in supermarket garbage and were subjected to threats and beatings if they tried to leave.
Some had worked in such circumstances for two decades. However, the judge ordered the jury to drop a second charge of conspiracy to hold a person in servitude.
William Connors, 52, was jailed for six-and-a-half years, and his wife, Mary, 48, was sentenced to two years and three months. One of their sons, John, 29, received four years and another son, James, 20, was sent to a juvenile detention center for three years. A son-in-law, Miles Connors, 24, was given a three-year prison sentence.
The court heard testimony that the Connors had made a fortune from the proceeds of their crimes. They drove expensive cars and went on luxury vacations. Some of the family lived in houses worth millions, had millions in various bank accounts and owned several properties in Ireland. These are now subject to possible seizure as criminal assets.
The police began investigating the Connors after the body of one of their workers, Christopher Nicholls, 40, was discovered in 2008. The family was placed under surveillance in August 2010 and evidence was recorded of men being assaulted. In April 2010, the Coroners and Justice Act was introduced, making it an offense to conspire to hold someone in servitude and require that individual to carry out forced or compulsory labor.
Following sentencing, the officer who led the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Sellwood, described the Connors as "greedy, arrogant people" who preyed on the weak.
"This was a criminal enterprise from beginning to end," he told RTE, the Irish national broadcaster. "They picked up vulnerable people, they offered them a new life and hope when they didn't have any, and then they dashed that."
The Connors maintained that the men were "free agents" able to come and go as they please. They said they had acted as "good Samaritans" by providing them with food, work and housing.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.