Runaway 'slave' hunted by private investigator

Defendants, above and below, outside Southampton Crown Court.

Court told: 'I was trafficking victim'

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Court Reporter

A MAN allegedly held captive by a family of travellers and forced to work long hours as a slave told jurors: “I was a victim of human trafficking.”

Christopher Groombridge, 32, described to Southampton Crown Court how he once escaped and was living in a Surrey night shelter when he was tracked down by a private investigator hired by the Connors family and taken back to their site.

The prosecution claims men were exploited, toiling for up to 14 hours a day laying block paving, resurfacing driveways and canvassing for work – all without pay.

Mr Groombridge told the court: “I got food, baccy and drink, but we never received the £30 they said I would be paid. I’m still scarred from what I have been through.”

When police raided the travellers’ site in Ensign Way, Hamble, last June, he was given a choice – stay or go.

“I wanted to go. I had had enough. I was the victim of human trafficking. Things are better now and I am enjoying it,” he told the court.

John Connors, 30, from Stopley, Luton, Jerry Connors, 30, from Chertsey, Surrey, and William Connors, 38, from Bulwell near Nottingham, deny four counts of holding the men in slavery or servitude between April 6, 2010 and June 24, 2011.

The trio have also pleaded not guilty to four alternative counts of requiring the men to perform forced labour between the same dates.

In a videotaped interview, Mr Groombridge told PC Wendy Steward how he and another man called Darren took a pick-up truck on his birthday to escape, but Darren got drunk on Jack Daniels and was arrested in Andover for drink-driving.

Mr Groombridge then made his way via Basingstoke to a Woking shelter where he was found by the investigator.

On the way back to Southampton, he claimed Johnny and Billy Connors told him they could do what they liked with him.

“We could beat you up if we chose to,” they had told him.

Mr Groombridge said he faced a choice – to work off the debt or get battered and left for dead. “That’s why I’m glad the police did come that day in question,” he said.

He denied under cross-examination he had rung the travellers for them to pick him up.

“I didn’t phone them, I didn’t know their numbers to phone them.”

Of his escape bid, he added: “It wasn’t to get more drink, it was to get out.”

Proceeding

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