That’s what my grandma used to say when my uncle brought home yet another bag of dirty laundry for her to wash – but she didn’t really mean it, any more than she minded getting up at 5am to make his sarnies for work. However, she might have meant it if she had worked for the Connors family in, of all places, Leighton Buzzard (not that she would have left Lancashire without a fight, and certainly not to come that far south). Earlier this month, husband and wife James John and Josie Connors were found guilty of forcing destitute men into servitude. They controlled, exploited, verbally abused and beat the men for financial gain at the Green Acres Caravan Site near Leighton Buzzard. The men were given very little food, made to wash in cold water and housed in revolting conditions, and forced to work in the Connors’ block paving business for up to 19 hours a day, six days a week. Four other men from the Connors family will face a retrial next year.
When I put together AML refresher training, I always try to include the “crime du jour”, the areas of increasing criminality, so that people can relate the stories they read in the papers and hear on the news with money laundering. And “slavery in Bedfordshire” has a good (by which I mean shockingly memorable) ring to it. People tend to think that slavery has been solved, a bit like smallpox. I think the problem is with the terminology: those (like Wilberforce) who wanted to get rid of slavery were known as the Abolitionists, and to a certain extent they succeeded, with the Slavery Abolition Act being passed in 1833. But as we know, outlawing something and abolishing it are two different things; after all, money laundering has been outlawed in almost every jurisdiction in the world, yet seems strangely to persist, what with naughty people being willing to break the law. As the campaigning organisation Anti-Slavery International explains; “Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ’employers’.” So we need to make sure that financial sector staff are not complacent, thinking that the money they receive, if not exactly clean, has come from a distant crime in a far-off land. They should feel outraged that such people as John James, Josie and their cousins would seek to taint our economy with their filthy money. The more Connors in our midst that we can expose, the better.