Forced labour case: 'Millionaire travellers were given £500k in legal aid'
NEWS that a family of millionaire travellers were given nearly £500,000 in legal aid for a court battle has sparked anger in the area.
William Connors, 52, wife Mary, 48, their sons, John, 29, and James, 20, and son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, were jailed in December for conspiracy to force homeless people to work for them without pay.
The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites, including one in Pleasley, near Mansfield.
With the profits from the work, the family funded luxury holidays and drove around in expensive cars – yet they were still able to claim legal aid.
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It was revealed over the weekend the Legal Services Commission, the organisation that oversees legal aid, paid £461,363.68 for lawyers to defend the family during proceedings at Bristol Crown Court.
The startling figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Press Association, to the anger of the Taxpayers' Alliance.
The group's chief executive Matthew Sinclair criticised the availability of legal aid to the wealthy.
He said: "Handing wealthy criminals huge sums of taxpayers' money is yet another example of why our legal aid system is in dire need of reform.
"Legal aid is important in ensuring access to justice but it must also be sustainable to taxpayers.
"It's incredible that this gang were able to claim so much in the first place, but now that they have been found guilty, taxpayers have every right to expect their money to be reclaimed at the very least."
The Connors family were snared when police raided the site in Pleasley, as well as Staverton in Gloucestershire and Enderby in Leicestershire, in March 2011 following a long surveillance operation.
William Connors was jailed for six-and-a-half years and his wife Mary received a sentence of two years and three months.
John Connors was jailed for four years and his brother James got three years' detention in a young offenders' institution.
Son-in-law Miles Connors received a three-year prison sentence. A hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act is expected to take place later this year when prosecutors will seek to seize the Connors' assets.
The Legal Services Commission could claw back the money if it is found the Connors have assets of over £30,000.
A commission spokesman said: "The law says that anyone facing a crown court trial for a serious criminal offence can apply for legal aid to ensure they have a lawyer.
"But funding is subject to a means test which could require them to pay towards their defence."