The victim of a shocking case of modern slavery at the hands of Joseph Rooney described vicious attacks by his captors when he tried to leave the Washingborough Road traveller site in Lincoln.
The 54-year-old had been living on the streets when he was picked up by Rooney, who is the 13th member of a notorious gang convicted for modern slavery offences as part of a major police operation.
His statement, detailing the squalid conditions he was forced to live in and his diet of leftover takeaway scraps was released in full by Lincolnshire Police. Read it below:
“I was homeless, living rough. I had been sleeping near to the sewerage farm on Washingborough Road underneath a railway bridge. While I was there I was approached by a male who I later came to know as Joseph Rooney.
I would describe him as a large stocky man. He is nearly six foot tall and he has an Irish accent which is very strong.
Joseph told me that he would look after me and they have taken me back to the caravan site on Washingborough Road, Lincoln where they have let me have a bath and get cleaned up and they have also fed me.
I remained with them for about two weeks, during which I helped on the site cleaning the caravans and feeding the horses.
After about two weeks I tried to leave the site, however when I got near to the gate to the site various members of Joseph’s family, including Joseph, stopped me from leaving by physically blocking me from leaving.
Threats were made to me that if I left the site they would break my legs. I felt very intimidated and frightened by these threats and as a result I was so frightened that they would carry out these threats that I did not make any further attempt to leave the site for about two years.
On the first day I was on the site they took my bank card from me which was for my bank account where my benefits were paid into weekly. I used to get just over £93 per week paid into the account.
Joseph kept hold of my bank card the whole time and even though I asked him for my card back Joseph would not let me have my card back.
Whenever the benefits were paid into my account, Joseph or his wife would go and withdraw the money and keep it for themselves. They would never let me have anything for my own use.
Joseph used to say that it cost them more money to keep me than they got from the account. They did used to feed me once during the day but in the evening I had to feed myself.
Occasionally I used to get given the leftovers from any takeaways that they did not want. In order to feed myself I used to be given an allowance for my day’s work cleaning the caravans and feeding the dogs and horses.
This allowance was less than £10 per day for a whole day’s work and included one bottle of cider per night which had to be drunk that night. If I wanted to get any food myself with my allowance I had to be escorted off of the site by a member of the family to go and buy the food.
After about two years on the site where I was effectively kept prisoner, the only times I was allowed off of the site unescorted was when I went to see the doctor.
“In those circumstances they would say that I had to get back by a certain time, if I didn’t get back in time they would be verbally abusive or they would give me a beating.
I recall once being late back from a doctor’s appointment by about 30 minutes and I was punched in the face causing me to receive a broken nose.
“I knew it was broken because both of my eyes went really black. I was not allowed to go and receive any medical attention for the injury. I cannot recall exactly who it was who threw a punch and broke my nose. It would have either been Joseph who was technically my boss or one of his brothers.
On one occasion I was even kicked really hard in the groin, causing me to lose my sense of balance and it made me vomit. It also caused extreme pain in my stomach too.
This pain lasted for up to an hour. I would say that when they beat me they did not do things by halves and I was subsequently really terrified of what they would do. Joseph was the one that did most of the physical abuse of me.
After being on the site for around two years, Joseph decided he was going to move to Scotland to work. There was another worker there who was in the same position as me being kept there at the site in Washingborough against his will. His name was “Willy”.
I do not know exactly what his name was. I know that he had been born in Lincoln but had lived in South Africa for about 20 years before returning to Lincoln where he had been “befriended” by Joseph and his family.
Willy had been at the site for a number of years before I was there. He was also subject to violence from Joseph on numerous occasions. He used to receive beatings from Joseph similar to what happened to me.
Willy had a big drink problem and used to drink a bottle of cider a night. Willy had been put on a drink ban by Joseph so he was not allowed to have any cider.
Because of his drink habit he started to look for other things to drink and he started to drink screen wash to get the alcohol in that. I couldn’t understand what it was that made him do this, I can only think that he had become tired of living the way we were living.
As a result of drinking the screen wash he eventually managed to poison himself. At this time we were both in Scotland.
When we initially went to Scotland, Willy and myself with Joseph, we went to a place I cannot recall near Lockerbie. We lived in the back of the van for about a month before the Rooneys bought us a cheap trailer to live in.
We were made to work on a daily basis from around 6am until late at night. During the day we used to be made to lay slabs and do tarmacking and in the evenings we had chores to do like cleaning the pickups, fetching water.
If you worked hard they used to give us £10 to ourselves. We used to move about regularly as the councils kept moving us on.
Just before Christmas we had been in Aberdeen near to the main Asda. I was going to the shop to get something when Joseph has come driving up behind me as I was leaving the site. He was in a black BMW that he owned at the time.
Joseph deliberately drove at me from behind and hit me with the car knocking me up into the air and causing me to land and bang my head. Joseph stopped and came up to me to see how I was.
The next day he kept saying that he had a dent in the wing of his car and it was my fault. The abuse and violence continued after Willy’s death, we continued to move around and I became more and more fed up with being treated like a slave and living in fear of violence.
I started to consider taking my own life to get out of the way of life I was stuck in. When I mentioned it to Joseph one night he even offered to give me a rope which made me feel even more worthless than I was already feeling.”