An English court has heard the incredible story of how a gang of Irish Travellers held homeless men as slaves, some of them for over 30 years.

The sensational case is unfolding at Luton Crown Court where seven members of the Connors family have been charged with servitude and forced labor.

The Irish Times reports that the Traveller family recruited homeless men with the promise of paid work laying tarmac and paving stones.

Instead they ended up in captivity, working as forced labour and living in squalid conditions on a caravan site in Bedfordshire, outside London.

Thomas Connors snr (52), his sons Johnny (28), Tommy jnr (27), James (24) and Patrick (22), and his son-in- law have been charged with servitude and forced labour.

Josie Connors (30) has been charged with keeping one man in conditions of servitude and requiring forced labour.

Prosecutor Frances Oldham told Luton Crown Court “They may not in the strict sense have been slaves, but they were not free men.

“The alleged victims were not always physically imprisoned but they lacked the resources or even the will to get away.”

One victim told detectives that some men had been beaten, ill-fed and left unpaid. He said conditions had been ‘like a concentration camp’.

The Irish Times reports that the men were recruited off the street or at homeless centres, and promised $70 a day. It is alleged that they never received the money, were blocked from leaving and were forced to work from 4am to 11pm six days a week, sometimes without food, while some were beaten.

Oldham claimed that at weekends, the men went door to door to find new customers and were ‘threatened if they failed to win business or tried to flee’.

Oldham also told the court that one man, now in his 40s, had been with the family since he was 14. He refused to stay at a rescue centre after the raid by police last September, and later returned to the caravan site.

Patrick Connors pictured outside Luton Magistrates' Court last September� SOUTH BEDS NEWS AGENCY