Travellers ‘slave network’ was ‘family business’

Green Acre caravan site

Arrests in Bedfordshire follow earlier raids on alleged slave camps in four other counties

LAST UPDATED AT 15:22 ON Tue 13 Sep 2011

WHAT'S HAPPENED?Police believe a "network of Irish travellers" has recruited or kidnapped more than 100 people nationwide over the past 20 years. All the people arrested at a number of raids across the country since March this year are believed to be linked through a traveller family with the surname Connors, according to the Times.

The claims come after four travellers from the Green Acres site in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, were charged with slavery offences following Sunday's raid in which 24 'slaves' were rescued.  

This year's raids are the culmination of a police investigation that began in 2008 when the dead body of a man was found near the Beggar's Roost caravan site in Gloucestershire. The man had been missing since 2005.

In March 2011, three travellers' sites were raided. At Beggar's Roost, two people were arrested and three alleged victims rescued. In Leicestershire and Derbyshire, two more travellers were arrested and another 17 alleged slaves were found. All those arrested have been charged with slavery offences and go by the surname Connors.

In June, two more Connors were arrested and charged after a raid in Hampshire freed 14 alleged slaves. And last month, a man thought to have the surname Connors was arrested in Denmark. He is awaiting extradition to the UK.

Not all those who have been rescued from alleged slavery have been grateful to police. Nine of the 24 men rescued from the Green Acres site have refused to cooperate with a criminal investigation and one of them told the Guardian he had worked for the travellers for several years, earning £50 per day. "I think it's all a load of rubbish and they just hate travellers," he said.

"Plenty of men who were here wanted to be here and they were getting paid. The police coming in heavy-handed like this is just wrong."

WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING?Detective Chief Inspector Sean O'Neil, of Bedfordshire Police, believes Green Acres and the other cases are a "family-run business and an organised crime group that has been broken up".

The Crown Prosecution Service says the charges brought against the four travellers from Green Acres relate to four victims who allege they have been held against their will and forced to live and work like slaves. More offences may arise out of interviews with the alleged victims.

But why do some supposed 'slaves' object to being rescued by police? Although he was unable to comment on this specific case, Paul Donohoe of Anti-Slavery International told the Guardian: "We do often see the Stockholm syndrome coming into effect - it is not unusual for people who have been 'rescued' to psychologically identify with their enslavers."

WHAT NEXT?While they build their case against the travellers' alleged slavery network, police face questions themselves over why they failed to act sooner.  Bedfordshire's Leighton-Linslade homeless charity told the Daily Mail it has been taking in alleged slaves from the Green Acres site since 2007 – and that it alerted police each time. · 

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