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Archive - Thursday, 27 May 1999
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Basildon: Homeless man held as slave
Slavery is alive and kicking in Essex according to a homeless man who was picked up off the streets and forced to work for a family of travellers.
John Williams, 28, described how on October 31 last year he was taken from London to Basildon and forced to work all day before being locked in a stable in Crays Hill.
He escaped from the family while working on a house in Hullbridge, he told Basildon Crown Court. Three men - Thomas Duffy, Alexander Duffy and David Ratcliffe - admitted charges of false imprisonment.
Williams had been living on the streets of London for eight months since travelling from his home in South Wales to find work.
He said: "It was about 3pm on Sunday, I was begging outside McDonalds in Victoria Street and Tommy Duffy came up to me and offered me a job. I thought this was my lucky break so I got in the car with him.
"We drove to Basildon and when we got to the site he ordered me to clean up the yard, and he took all my ID off me.
"I worked hard, they showed me to a stable block where there was a bed, a small heater which didn't work, bars on the windows and about two inches of water on the floor.
"I was tired so I went inside to sleep and they locked the door behind me.
"When I told Tommy I had to go back to London he said 'You're not going anywhere, you're here for six months, this is your home now. You don't want to cross me, I'm a traveller and I'll slit your throat'.
"I was terrified. I thought I'll keep them happy but I was thinking what have I got myself into, and how I was going to escape.
"They locked me up on the Monday night, but on the Tuesday we went to a house in Hullbridge to work. Tommy had to go and get some materials so I took my chance to escape.
"I ran as fast as I could for about two miles until I found this golf course, I collapsed by this green keeper, I was hysterical, he must have thought I was mad, but he called the police.
"I was running for my life, I honestly thought they would kill me if they caught me."
In court Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, described how Thomas Duffy, 41, of plot 10, South Mimms Caravan Site, Hertfordshire, had been the ringleader of the group.
The court heard how Alexander Duffy, 33 of no address, was not related to Thomas Duffy, but that he had "become part of the family" some 12 years earlier, at some stage taking the Duffy name.
The same had happened to David Ratcliffe 27, who had been with Thomas Duffy for around 10 years. Both Alexander Duffy and Ratcliffe lived in squalid conditions in a caravan in Oak Lane, Crays Hill, and were only offered food for their work.
Sentencing Thomas Duffy to 12 months imprisonment judge Michael Yelton said: "It seems to me that you were bringing another man into your family that you found on the streets of London. He would work for you like the other two have done."
Alexander Duffy and David Ratcliffe received sentences of six months, but all three were released because they had spent seven months in custody.
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