A traveller family who lived a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of vulnerable men forced to work for a pittance are beginning prison sentences of up to six-and-a-half years.

Head of the family William "Billy" Connors, 52, was jailed for six-and-a-half years by a judge who condemned him for the "rich financial rewards" he had enjoyed and for corrupting his family.

travellers forced labour

The members of the Connors family jailed included (left to right) William, Mary, John, James and Miles

His wife Mary "Brida" Connors, 48, was jailed for 27 months after the judge said he was showing her teenage daughter "an act of mercy" in reducing her prison sentence.

It means she will almost certainly be released immediately because of the time she has served on remand.

The couple's two sons, Johnny, 29, and Jimmy, 20, were sentenced to four years jail and three years detention in a young offenders institution respectively.

The fifth member of the family, son-in-law Miles "Miley" Connors, 24, was jailed for three years.

The scenes which marred the courtroom last week when the family were convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 were not repeated.

Family members sat in the public gallery and wept as Judge Michael Longman jailed them.

"In each of your cases there must be sentences of imprisonment, which are required to reflect the seriousness of the offence of which you have been convicted, and to deter others from behaving in a similar way," he said.

Addressing William Connors, the judge said the exploitation of vulnerable men has been "a way of life that you have lived for many years".

He added: "Over the years, such exploitation has brought you rich financial rewards.

"I accept that you have had other sources of income, such as rental income, but I am satisfied that the opportunity to provide yourself with such other sources of income derives from the profits you have made from exploiting others and requiring them to work for you.

"I have to take account too of the fact that you influenced the other defendants in this way of life and brought up your sons to behave in a similar way."

The judge told Mary Connors she had enjoyed the spoils generated by her family's crimes.

"You were not a boss but were content to benefit materially from the way of life provided for you by your husband, who was a boss, and whose activities I am satisfied you clearly understood," he said.

"You knew of the way of life of the workers, the conditions in which they lived and worked, and you gave them tasks yourself when they were not working off-site."

The Connors enjoyed top-of-the-range cars and expensive holidays and, to live the high life, the family picked up men - often homeless drifters or addicts - to work for them as labourers.

The victims lived in squalid caravans on traveller sites as they moved around the country working in the Connors' paving and patio businesses.

Their work was monotonous, arduous and unrelenting, and they were controlled by discipline and violence.

Some of the men - called "dossers" by the Connors - had worked for the family for nearly two decades.

Many were beaten, hit with broom handles, belts, a rake and shovel, and punched and kicked by the Connors.

The men were paid as little as £5 for a day's hard labour on jobs which would earn the family several thousands pounds.

They were given so little food that they resorted to scavenging from rubbish bins at supermarkets.

In contrast, the Connors grew fat on the spoils of their hard labour and lived in large and well-appointed caravans fitted with luxury kitchens and flat-screen televisions.

William and Mary enjoyed exotic holidays, including Dubai and a 10-day cruise around the Caribbean on the Cunard flagship liner Queen Mary 2.

The family also enjoyed breaks to Tenerife and Cancun in Mexico.

As well as holidays, they drove around in top-of-the-range cars, including a silver A-Class Mercedes saloon, a Rolls-Royce, a red Mini convertible, a Toyota Hilux pick-up, a Ford Ranger and a Mercedes van, and had built up a mounting property portfolio potentially now worth millions of pounds.

This included one house with a hot tub and accompanying flat-screen television.

Their bank accounts contained more than £500,000.

Police began investigating the Connors following the discovery of the body of worker Christopher Nicholls, 40, in 2008.

The introduction of the Coroners and Justice Act in April 2010 created offences of conspiracy to hold another person in servitude and conspiracy to require a person to carry out forced or compulsory labour.

The Connors were placed under covert surveillance in August 2010 and police recorded evidence of the men being assaulted.

The enterprise came to an end when police raided sites in Staverton in Gloucestershire, Enderby in Leicestershire and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire in March last year.

The Connors maintained the men were "free agents" able to come and go as they pleased, and William and Mary suggested they acted as "good Samaritans" by providing them with food, work and accommodation.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Sellwood, who led the investigation, said: "William Connors is a very greedy and arrogant man. This was a commercial enterprise which was all about making him money and affording him a luxurious lifestyle.

"He wasn't a drug dealer or a thief but his means of earning a fortune was by exploiting really, really vulnerable people - people at the bottom of society with no hope.

"He gave them false hope and exploited them for years."

The Connors family now face Proceeds of Crime Act hearings when prosecutors hope to seize all their assets. They also face a ban from tarmacing and paving drives upon their release.