Members of an extended family in Lincolnshire have been convicted of a series of offences of forced and compulsory labour, exploitation and fraud offences dating back over a decade.
The members of the Rooney family, who were based on traveller sites in Lincoln, forced a succession of people to work for little or no pay and housed them in squalid conditions with little or no access to basic requirements. They targeted people they knew to be vulnerable, including the homeless and those with learning disabilities or issues with alcohol or drugs. They would look for people on the streets, or in known locations where homeless people congregated and offer them work, food and accommodation.
They were prosecuted for offences committed against 16 victims of forced or compulsory labour. The CPS also received evidence in relation to two further victims, who have since died.
However, when the Rooneys' victims accepted these offers of work, they were allocated to shabby, dilapidated caravans on the sites, mostly with no heating, water or toilet facilities. Some victims reported having to use rudimentary toilets in the woods behind the caravan.
The victims were forced to work either on the sites or for the defendants’ businesses repairing properties and paving driveways. Nearly all the victims reported that they were never given safety equipment or appropriate clothing in which to work.
Although food was promised, the victims were poorly fed and often went hungry. They were at best poorly paid and at times were paid nothing for working long hours on hard physical jobs. The defendants would tell them that they owed money and would force them to work more to pay it off. They would control their bank accounts, and in some cases would help themselves to their savings and benefits, even fraudulently instigating benefit claims in their names and seizing the money.
Members of the Rooney family did provide alcohol and drugs. Initially this was part of their grooming process, to make them appear generous, but as their hold on the victims increased, they used it as a means of keeping them under their control.
They commonly used threats and, on many occasions, violence. Their victims lived in fear of the family and what they would do to them if they crossed them or tried to leave. Some tried to run away, but were tracked down by the defendants and brought back to the sites. In some cases, the Rooneys’ hold over them was so strong that they abandoned legitimate attempts to seek help in order to return.
The impact on the mental and physical health of the victims was severe. They were often malnourished, and forced to carry out physical labour with inadequate equipment, subjected to beatings and threatened. Even when severely injured, they were often denied medical attention.
Some members of the Rooney family also targeted vulnerable homeowners, coercing them into signing their properties over to them, which they then sold on at a profit.
Reporting restrictions have today been lifted at Nottingham Crown Court in relation to 11 defendants who were prosecuted for the offences outlined above.
Janine Smith from the CPS said: “These members of the Rooney family lived lives of luxury at the expense of their victims, condemning them to live in fear, misery and squalor. For them, exploitation, violence and extortion were a way of life. The defendants have caused serious harm to the people they exploited, some of whom have now passed away.
“Bringing this family to justice has been a complex and time-consuming case due to the prolific nature of their offending. In order to present it successfully to the court, prosecutors had to show the actions of each defendant, in respect of each offence, victim and location, spread over a number of different trials. They displayed dedication and professionalism by doing so.
“However, this case could only go to court with the support of the victims who overcame their fear of the Rooneys and, sometimes, apprehension of the authorities to tell their stories. I hope they have felt supported throughout by the CPS and the police. These convictions are a tribute to their bravery.”
The case against the members of the Rooney family was first brought to the CPS in 2014, while Lincolnshire Police continued their investigations into their activities. The magnitude of their offending was so great that the case was divided into a number of separate trials, each dealing with different areas of offending.
The first trial, which lasted four months at Nottingham Crown Court resulted in guilty verdicts for the forced labour and exploitation of the victims at the site in Drinsey Nook.
The second trial was for similar offences committed at the Washingborough site, but resulted in the defendants pleading guilty to offences of forced and compulsory labour during the trial.
A number of defendants pleaded guilty to offences relating to fraud against homeowners.
Further proceedings are active in relation to further matters relating to the Rooneys’ conduct, including some issues connected with the first three trials.
Notes to Editors:
- Some proceedings in relation to this case are still active and reporting restrictions are in place. It is advisable to check these restrictions and proceedings before reporting.
- Janine Smith is Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS East Midlands