11 convicted of modern day slavery as court told of homeless and vulnerable victims held by Lincolnshire family - one for 26 years

The Rooneys

The Rooneys - Credit: Archant

Eleven men – part of one family – have been convicted of modern day slavery in what Lincolnshire police who brought them to justice say is the country’s biggest investigation of its kind.

The rooney family connections

The rooney family connections - Credit: Archant

Chief Superintendent Nikki Mayo, Senior Investigating Officer, said:” This has been our force’s largest and most complex investigation into modern slavery and we are delighted to get the right outcome for victims.”

In one case a victim was held captive by the family for 26 years.

Patrick Rooney

Patrick Rooney - Credit: Archant

The victims, whose identities will remain anonymous, were all adults aged between 18 and 63.

They had been located and picked up by the defendants from all over the country and specifically targeted because they were vulnerable and homeless.

Caravan which was 'home' to victim of modern slavery gang

Caravan which was 'home' to victim of modern slavery gang - Credit: Archant

He said: “Their living quarters were truly shocking and at times the men resided in site stables next to the dog kennels.

“The promise of food was also fabricated. Victims were often only provided food when they worked and at times it was restricted to the family’s leftovers.

Gerald Rooney

Gerald Rooney - Credit: Archant

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“Often their only ‘payment’ was a packet of tobacco and a limited amount of alcohol which didn’t help those with addictions and was another way in which the defendants exerted control over them.

While their ‘labourers’ were suffering, the perpetrators were taking luxurious holidays to Barbados, Australia, Egypt and Mexico, the purchase of high performance BMWs, spa days and even cosmetic surgery.

John Rooney

John Rooney - Credit: Archant

The defendants have been convicted of offences following a series of linked trials relating to modern slavery and fraud at Nottingham Crown Court.

The case was part of Lincolnshire Police’s ‘Operation Pottery’ investigation which has been one of the largest investigations of its kind in the country.

Martin Rooney

Martin Rooney - Credit: Archant

•Pottery consisted of three trials between November 2016 and August 2017

•The investigation consisted of over 49 hours of suspect interviews

Opulent home of Patrick Rooney

Opulent home of Patrick Rooney - Credit: Archant

•Over 2,000 lines of enquiry were pursued

•1,830 statements were recorded from 939 people

Building work at home of John Rooney

Building work at home of John Rooney - Credit: Archant

•The enquiry has seized over 4,200 exhibits and there were 27,000 pages of served evidence!

•During enforcement police seized four caravans, three jack hammers, 70 packs of bricks, three power generators, a camping pod a Labrador and even the gates from Lincoln Cemetery. These items had a combined value of around £100,000 and all were returned to their rightful owners

Lawrence Rooney

Lawrence Rooney - Credit: Archant

•£8,000 is cash seized from those convicted and their addresses

•Conned vulnerable residents out of three houses to the value of £528,000

Inside the caravan of slavery victim

Inside the caravan of slavery victim - Credit: Archant

The following individuals will be sentenced on September 7, 8, 11 and 12 at Nottingham Crown Court.

•John Rooney (31) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, Conspiracy to defraud, Fraud by false representation, Theft (two counts).

Martin Rooney jnr

Martin Rooney jnr - Credit: Archant

•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, Theft (two counts).

•Bridget Rooney (55) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour

Peter Doran

Peter Doran - Credit: Archant

•Martin Rooney (35) of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield – Conspiracy to defraud, Converting criminal property (two counts)

•Martin Rooney (57) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, Unlawful wounding

Martin Rooney snr

Martin Rooney snr - Credit: Archant

•Martin Rooney (23) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, Assault occasioning actual bodily harm

•Patrick Rooney (54) of Sainfoin Farm, Gatemoor Lane, Beaconsfield – Converting criminal property

Patrick Rooney

Patrick Rooney - Credit: Archant

•John Rooney (53) of Chantry Croft, Pontefract – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour (two counts)

•Peter Doran (36) of Washingborough Road, Lincoln – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour

John Rooney

John Rooney - Credit: Archant

•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

The following two individuals were found not guilty of these counts:

•Eileen Rooney (32) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, Theft, Fraud.

•Nora Rooney (31) of Drinsey Nook, Sheffield Road, Saxilby – Conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Enforcement around Operation Pottery began on September 22, 2014 when seven warrants were executed almost simultaneously in three force areas – Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and London.

In total six people were arrested – three from Drinsey Nook and three from Washingborough in Lincoln. The enforcement involved police officers from across the East Midlands alongside the National Crime Agency.

Lincolnshire Police set up a reception centre where staff from a number of agencies including the NHS, Social Services, British Red Cross and the UK Human Trafficking Centre joined together to support six victims of modern slavery who were transported from the sites – two from Drinsey Nook, three from Washingborough and one who had relocated to the Nomad Centre, Lincoln.

Having previously located two other victims, our detectives later traced a further 10 vulnerable men who had been able to leave the sites. All victims were extremely vulnerable – many were alcoholics and several had learning disabilities and mental health issues and were estranged from their families. The UK Human Trafficking Centre concluded that in total18 men had been illegally trafficked.

Chief Supt Mayo said: “The focus of this case has always been the victims, ensuring that they get the help and support they need to live their lives free from the treatment they received at the hands of the defendants.

“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.

“Through intelligence from partner agencies and the public 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 extent of these conditions soon became apparent – 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. The men were incredibly vulnerable.

“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 we arrived at the site or when they were transported into the care of support services and we worked hard to gain their trust.

“The three years that followed have been gruelling and emotional times for the victims and my investigation team.

“They were promised that they would be looked after, sheltered and fed in return for work and were then trafficked into the site. In fact they were being completely exploited – working long hours tarmacking driveways and block paving for the family.

“These businesses operated illicitly by using stolen materials and tools and advertised on hoardings where they didn’t have permission to do so.

“The ‘employees’ were not paid very much if at all. When they weren’t working for the company the men had to collect scrap, sweep, tidy up or look after pets around the sites. This exploitation was illegally funding a lavish lifestyle for the defendants. “They were not given training for the manual labour and although not physically trapped, they were financially, emotionally and physically abused making any escape seems impossible.”

Chief Supt Mayo said: “Victims who did pluck up the courage were often searched for by the family and if located, returned and put back to work.

“The men were also subjected to threats of violence and intimidation by the defendants and some were assaulted.

“If they needed the toilet they often had no alternative but to use the nearby woods and fields. If they needed to go to see a doctor visits were frequently delayed and advice often totally disregarded, and over time the victims became completely institutionalised and isolated from society.

“Some were financially trapped making any escape seem impossible, as victims bank accounts were used to pay for gym membership, materials used by the business and even a soccer school course at Manchester United.

“Over time and during our interviews, I’m pleased to say the victims have come such a long way and the difference in their appearance and self-confidence has been remarkable.

“It was challenging to gain their trust at first but with the help of LCC Social Services, health providers, the British Red Cross and housing providers the men regained confidence and control of their lives.

“They now live independent lives, with many working in genuine employment and some have gone on to study.

“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. If you believe someone is being exploited please call 101 and for help spotting the signs please visit www.lincs.police.uk.”

The investigation also uncovered four properties that had been obtained from vulnerable and often elderly people.

“Victims were encouraged to sign over their properties for prices well below their market value. In total four properties were signed over with just one victim obtaining his house back through the civil courts.

In the other cases one victim in Douglas Crescent, Hayes had signed shares in his property over to Martin (35) and John (31) with them set to inherit his share through his will. The house at the time was valued at £210,000.

Chief Supt Mayo said: “The victim has died and we have restrained the property preventing any sale.

“Another victim had inherited a house in Brook Road, South Brentford, Middlesex following the death of his parents and sister.

“He had alcohol issues and developed dementia. He signed his property over to John Rooney (31) on the condition the place would be renovated and he was allowed to lease the property back – this never happened.”

The victim was then moved to Sainfoin Farm – the address of Patrick (54) and Martin (35). His health deteriorated, his dementia became more severe and he was moved to Drinsey Nook.

Soon afterwards he was admitted to Lincoln Hospital with foot problems after being left at A&E by the Rooney family. He was treated and subsequently moved into a care home near Gainsborough. He never had any visitors and sadly died there in November 2014.

Meanwhile John Rooney sold the property receiving £250,000 and payments were also made by John to Patrick (54) and Martin (35).

Chief Superintendent Nikki Mayo added: “The really sad part of this man’s story is that we were able to trace his friends and family who were not aware of his death so hadn’t attended his funeral.”

Patrick Rooney (31) had also befriended a vulnerable couple convincing them that they were related. This house was also in need of renovation.

The couple agreed to sign over their property and it was agreed that Patrick Rooney would share any profits with them. This never happened the couple were moved to Drinsey Nook and later to Washingborough where they were charged rent for a caravan by John Rooney (31).

The local authority stepped in and rehomed the couple as a caravan was completely unsuitable accommodation given the females complex health needs.

Patrick Rooney (31) cleared the debts on the property in order to sell it for £62,000. Chief Supt Mayo said: “ Again vulnerable and elderly residents were the victims who were befriended over short periods and persuaded to transfer the deeds of their properties in return for being ‘looked after’, having the property refurbished or debts being paid off.”