Nine members of a traveller family convicted of “completely unacceptable” modern day slavery offences have been jailed after a judge likened their victims’ plight to peasants in medieval times.
The head of the slavery ring, 57-year-old Martin Rooney, was jailed for 10 years and nine months after being convicted of wounding and conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Sentencing Rooney, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, Lincolnshire, Judge Timothy Spencer QC contrasted the family’s wealth, foreign holidays and expensive cars with the dirty caravans and squalid conditions their victims lived in.
The judge said the difference between the family’s lifestyle and “spotlessly clean” living conditions, and the lives of their victims “was akin to the gulf between medieval royalty and the peasantry”.
A total of 11 defendants were convicted of offences following a series of linked trials relating to modern slavery and fraud at Nottingham Crown Court.
Six people were initially arrested in September 2014 when seven warrants were executed in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and London as part of inquiries into allegations of modern slavery.
All the victims of the offences - including a man kept in “truly shocking” conditions for decades - were described as extremely vulnerable, with some having learning disabilities and mental health issues.
Passing sentence, the judge said Patrick Rooney, aged 31 and also of Drinsey Nook, had made “wild” accusations against police officers during his trial.
The judge added that Patrick Rooney - who was jailed for 15 years and nine months - claimed what was going on at Drinsey was no different from what was going on at other travellers’ sites around the country.
The judge added: “Sadly I very much fear that you may be correct about that but that does make any of it right.
“It may be that society and government have been slow to wake up to this pernicious wrongdoing.
“But society and government have woken up - the relevant law - now known as the modern slavery legislation- came into force in 2010.”
“And the jury’s verdict made it crystal clear that society regards what was going on Drinsey as completely unacceptable.”
Seven other members of the Rooney family were given custodial sentences ranging from 15 to five years, while two other defendants received suspended sentences.
Commenting after the case, Superintendent Chris Davison, head of crime for Lincolnshire Police, said: “The severity of these crimes is underlined by the sentences imposed by the judge.
“The victims will never get the years back that were taken away from them but I hope this provides them with some comfort that justice has been served and demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to try and stop others suffering in the ways that they did.”
Officers from HM Revenue and Customs supported Lincolnshire Police from the start of the investigation, identifying income tax, VAT and Tax Credit offences after analysing the family’s illegal trading activities.
Simon York, director for fraud investigation at HMRC, said: “These people lived a life of luxury by exploiting and abusing highly vulnerable individuals.
“They stripped them of their humanity, forcing them to live and work in terrible conditions.”
The victims were forced to work either on travellers’ sites or for the defendants’ businesses repairing properties and paving driveways.
Prosecutors said that although food was promised, the victims, aged 18 to 63, were poorly fed and often went hungry, being paid little or nothing for working long hours.