Eleven members of a notorious Lincolnshire family have been convicted of modern slavery offences and fraud.
The Lincolnshire Police led Operation Pottery investigation into the Rooney family based in Lincoln, Saxilby, Pontefract and Beaconsfield began in 2014 and was one of largest of its kind in the UK, consisting of over 49 hours of suspect interviews, over 2,000 lines of enquiry and 1,830 statements from 939 people.
In total, 18 people were victims of the human trafficking masterminded by the Rooneys.
Victims were kept in caravans on travellers sites without running water or access to toilet facilities, and in some cases the electricity to them was dangerously obtained from a nearby pylon.
One man is believed to have been kept for an incredible 26 years.
The men were incredibly vulnerable, with some suffering from learning disabilities or mental health issues.
Others were completely dependent on alcohol or drugs and were identified especially by the family as being vulnerable.
The victims were adults aged between 18 and 63 and were promised by the Rooneys that they would be looked after in return for work.
They ended up working long hours tarmacking driveways and block paving for the family by using stolen materials and tools.
The men even had to collect scrap, sweep, tidy up or look after pets around the sites.
For this, they lived next to the dog kennels, were often given the family’s leftovers as food, and were ‘paid’ in tobacco and alcohol, which only exacerbated their addictions.
To go to the toilet, the victims had to use nearby woods and fields.
While this exploitation was ongoing, the Rooneys lived a life of luxury, taking luxurious holidays to Barbados, Australia, Egypt and Mexico, purchasing high performance BMWs, spa days and even cosmetic surgery.
The following will be sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court on September 7, 8, 11 and 12 after being found guilty of the following offences:
- 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).
- 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
- 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, 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
- 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.
- 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, detectives later traced a further 10 vulnerable men who had been able to leave the sites.
‘Cruel and demoralising crimes’
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.
“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.
“They were not given training for the manual labour and although not physically trapped, they were financially, emotionally and physically abused making any escape seem impossible.
“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 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 Lincolnshire County Council Social Services, health providers, the British Red Cross and housing providers the men regained confidence and control of their lives.
“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.”
Targeting vulnerable people
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.
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 County 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 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 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. The couple agreed to sign over their property and it was agreed that Patrick Rooney would share any profits with them.
This never happened and 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.
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.
Operation Pottery by numbers:
- Three trials between November 2016 and August 2017
- 49 hours of suspect interviews
- Over 2,000 lines of enquiry pursued
- 1,830 statements recorded from 939 people
- 4,200 exhibits seized
- 27,000 pages of served evidence
- Four caravans, three jack hammers, 70 packs of bricks, three power generators, a camping pod, a Labrador, and gates from Lincoln Cemetery seized
- £8,000 seized from those convicted
- Conned vulnerable residents out of three houses to the value of £528,000