A man has been convicted of modern-day slavery charges along with 10 members of his family after forcing people with learning disabilities into work, making them sleep in stables and feeding them scraps.
John Rooney, 52, of Chantry Croft, Kinsley, was one of 11 found guilty following a complex three-year investigation led by Lincolnshire Police involving the trafficking of several vulnerable men over a 26-year period.
They were forced to live in squalid conditions, beaten, threatened and rounded up if they tried to escape.
The gang, who are all part of the same family and had lived on a travellers’ site in Lincolnshire, faced many offences, including requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, fraud charges, theft, assault with ABH, unlawful wounding and converting criminal property, during the trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
Chief Superintendent Nikki Mayo, senior investigating officer, said: “Through intelligence and our officers visiting the traveller sites we knew these men were being kept in very poor conditions and made to work for little money.
“The tragedy in this case is that the victims will never get those years of their lives back – we believe one man was held for 26 years.
“The severity and gravity of the charges speak for themselves.
“Modern slavery is a cruel and extremely demoralising crime and it’s important that people understand that it isn’t just forced labour like this – victims can be sexually exploited, or forced into committing crimes. Although it is often vulnerable people who are targeted, this can happen to anyone.”
Operation Pottery began in September 2014 when seven warrants were executed almost simultaneously across Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and London.
The UK Human Trafficking Centre concluded that in total 18 men had been illegally trafficked.
All victims were extremely vulnerable – many were alcoholics and several had learning disabilities and mental health issues and were estranged from their families.
The victims were ‘accommodated’ in caravans without running water or access to toilet facilities, and in some cases the electricity to them was dangerously obtained from a nearby pylon.
On some occasions they were even forced to sleep in stables.
All aged between 18 and 63, some had learning disabilities or mental health issues while others were completely dependent on alcohol or drugs. Some had no idea what was happening when police arrived.
They had been located and picked up by the defendants from all over the country and specifically targeted because they were vulnerable and homeless.
They were promised that they would be looked after, sheltered and fed in return for work and were then trafficked into the site.
They worked long hours tarmacking driveways and block paving for the family, and food was often restricted to the family’s leftovers.
When they weren’t working for the company the men had to collect scrap, sweep, tidy up or look after pets around the sites.
The family took luxurious holidays to Barbados, Australia, Egypt and Mexico, bought high-performance BMWs, and splashed cash on spa days and even cosmetic surgery, while their ‘labourers’ were suffering,
Chief Supt Mayo added: “They were financially, emotionally and physically abused making any escape seem impossible.
“The greatest positive of this case is that so many of the victims have now got their lives back, they’ve got a real second chance at some peace and happiness and to grow and flourish in their communities – it’s very much deserved.”
John Rooney, who was found guilty of two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, will be sentenced next month along with the rest of his family members.