Family convicted of running modern slavery ring in UK; victim ordered to dig own grave

Update 5.50pm: The victim of a modern slavery gang was ordered to dig his own grave and told "that's where you're going" if he did not sign a bogus work contract.

He was kept a "captive" by members of the Rooney family on a Lincolnshire traveller site and forced to work 12-hour days, seven-days-a-week for 26 years.

Photos issued by Lincolnshire Police of (top row, from the left) Bridget Rooney, Gerald Rooney, John Rooney, 53, John Rooney, 31, (middle row, from the left) Lawrence Rooney, Martin Rooney, 35, Martin Rooney Snr, Martin Rooney, 23, (bottom row, from the left) Patrick Rooney, 54, Patrick Rooney, 31, and Peter Doran.

In an emotional account of his life, the man's sister told how he was beaten with a rake when he overslept, had his teeth smashed with a concrete slab and had been left "psychologically damaged" by his dreadful ordeal.

Speaking anonymously, the woman told how her brother was first approached by one of the gang "on a seafront bench" and offered work.

Candidly, she told how her sibling had developed a drug habit and become homeless, losing contact with his own family.

In an audio tape of her interview released by Lincolnshire Police, she said: "They were possibly watching him in the soup kitchens in the homeless centres.

"Because that's what they do to try and establish people that won't be missed.

"He worked very, very long hours and he certainly had a very hard life.

"From my understanding, it was for very little pay or no pay and I believe he was actually living in very squalid conditions and had lived in a stable for some part of his captivity."

On Friday, the full story emerged of how 11 members of the Rooney gang were convicted of running a modern slavery ring, which kept 18 men in "truly shocking" conditions.

While their victims were forced into a life of hard labour, the family - convicted of slavery and fraud charges at Nottingham Crown Court - lived a life of luxury, earned off the backs of their workers.

Telling of her brother's ordeal at the gang's hands, the victim's sister said: "He was asked to sign a contract by John Rooney - a contract would have been out of his understanding.

"And John Rooney said to him, 'you're going to work for me for the rest of your life'.

"My brother replied 'oh, I don't know about that'.

"Prior to that conversation, John Rooney had actually made him dig a hole.

"And my brother said to him 'how much further do you want me to dig down?'

"And he (John) said 'keep digging' and at the end of the conversation said to him 'if you don't sign this contract, that's where you're going, in that hole'.

"We think he was captured for up to 26 years."

Giving an account of another conversation with her brother: "I said 'how did you loose your front teeth because you used to have nice teeth when you were young'.

"He looked at me and he said 'oh concrete done that', and I said 'what do you mean?'

"And he said 'oh, well John threw a slab at me one day, and it hit me in the mouth'.

"That is the way that you get these people to become so subservient to them."

She added: "The brother we have back is certainly not the one that left us.

"I think the whole family feel a sense of guilt because had we had known this is what was happening to this poor lad, then would we have done things differently."

Earlier: Members of a traveller family in England have been convicted of running a modern slavery ring which kept one of its captives in "truly shocking" conditions for decades.

Vulnerable people were forced to work for the Rooney clan for little or no wages, while their pay-masters lived a life of lavish luxury.

The 11 gang-members, convicted of fraud and slavery charges, enjoyed holidays to Barbados and cosmetic surgery and even shelled out on a Manchester United soccer school, earned off the backs of their workers.

Operating from sites in Lincolnshire, they targeted victims who were homeless, had learning disabilities or complex drug and alcohol issues.

The men, aged 18 to 63, were freed after raids by Lincolnshire Police and the National Crime Agency, carried out in 2014.

One of the victims was found to have been working for the family for 26 years.

Some of the gang also targeted four elderly home-owners, getting them to sign over properties into their names and selling three on for profit - one for £250,000.

One the householders ended up dying without his family knowing. It was only when contacted police they discovered they had missed his funeral.

After four trials resulting in convictions, the full scale of the offending can now finally be revealed after a ruling at Nottingham Crown Court on Friday.

Judge Timothy Spencer QC said: "After careful consideration, I'm quite satisfied the public interest lies in these matters being reported."

Members of the family would go looking for victims on the streets, hostels and shelters, offering work for food and accommodation.

But at sites in Drinsey Nook and Washingborough, the offers of fair work for fair pay were exposed as lies.

However, it was through false promises, drugs, alcohol and violence, family members made sure they kept their victims "financially-trapped" and under total control.

Labourers were forced to live in shabby run-down caravans, or in stables next to kennels, with little or no access to basics such as heating, water and toilets.

Some were forced to squat in woods behind their living areas, while electricity was "dangerously" tapped from a nearby pylon.

In all, 18 men were forced to work at the sites or for the Rooneys' businesses, repairing properties and tarmacking drives.

Most told how they were never given safety equipment or the right clothing.

The police said victims were also "poorly fed" and often went hungry - or were given the "family's left-overs", even though they were worked for hours on hard, manual tasks.

If victims complained, the gang would say they still owed money and would claim more labour to pay off the bogus debts.

The heartless gang provided alcohol and drugs as part of what prosecutors had described as a "grooming" process.

But as their hold on the victims increased, that illicit supply gave the clan an ever-tighter hold over their victims, including their bank accounts.

In some cases, the accounts were used to pay for gym memberships, soccer schools and building materials to supply the business.

The Rooneys also used "threats" and "violence", including punishment beatings, and the victims were denied medical help for their injuries and ailments.

The impact on the victims was severe, with many suffering mental and physical torment during their "gruelling and emotional" ordeal, said police.

The gang also targeted vulnerable home-owners, coercing them into signing over properties to them which were then sold on for profit.

For the convicted gang-members, there were luxurious holidays to Australia, Egypt and Mexico, high-performance BMWs, spa days and cosmetic surgery.

It was a far cry from what Chief Superintendent Nikki Mayo, who led the investigation, described as the "suffering" inflicted on the men they employed.

She said: "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."

She added many of the victims "have now got their lives back".

:: John Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby, Lincolnshire - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, conspiracy to defraud, fraud by false representation and two counts of theft.

:: Patrick Rooney, 31, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, fraud by abuse of position, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and two counts of theft.

:: Bridget Rooney, 55, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

:: Martin Rooney, 35, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield - conspiracy to defraud, two counts of converting criminal property.

:: Martin Rooney, 57, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and unlawful wounding.

:: Martin Rooney, 23, of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

:: Patrick Rooney, 54, of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire - converting criminal property.

:: John Rooney, 53, of Chantry Croft, Pontefract, Yorkshire - two counts of conspiring to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

:: Peter Doran, 36, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

:: Gerard Rooney, 46, of Washingborough Road, Lincoln - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

:: Lawrence Rooney, 47, currently in prison - conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

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