Married cousins who forced destitute men into slavery at a travellers' camp near Bedfordshire are jailed for 11 years and four years respectively.

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James John, 34, and his wife Josie Connors, 31, were convicted of controlling, exploiting and abusing the men by brutally manipulating them into believing they would receive food, accommodation and money in return for work.

"The way they brutally manipulated and exploited men is pure evil," Judge Michael Kay said. "Their disdain for the dignity of others is shocking. They were not good samaritans but violent, cold, hard exploiters."

Two other members of the Connors' family - Tommy Senior and Patrick - were also found guilty of controlling, exploiting, verbally abusing and beating the men under their control. The court spent 13 weeks considering allegations that they deprived their captives of food, forced them to wash in cold water and paid them little or no money for working up to 19 hours a day.

Concentration camp conditions

One man allegedly told police he had been warned he would be "murdered" if he ever tried to leave. Another said that living at the caravan site was like being in a "concentration camp".

James John and Josie Connors both denied two counts of holding a person in servitude and two counts of requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. James John, also known as Big Jim, was also convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Most of the workers sooner or later managed to escape, but remained fearful of being "recaptured", the jury at Luton Crown Court heard.

The captives, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were forced to work in the Connors' block paving business.

Police raid

Slavery is not uncommon in the UK and the crimes came to light when police raided the Greenacres caravan site in September 2011.

A total of seven members of the family were on trial, but the jury failed to reach verdicts on three others.

When the captive men were taken to a leisure centre for a rare shower, they were described as "shabby and under-nourished," the judge said. "They kept their heads down as if in a chain gang."

"I am satisfied they were recruited by you James John, and you, Josie, were present," he said.

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