It wasn't very much fun.
This is "Matt." He didn't want anyone to see his face for obvious reasons. He also said he'd taken a load of photos of the campsite on his phone but left it out there. Which sucks.
You know what's no fun? Being trafficked by some dickheads and forced to work like a slave. Trust me, it happened to a guy I know.
Through my flatmate's brother, I met "Matt" (not his real name, by the way, but I don't want him getting beaten up for talking to me). Matt was conned into going to Europe with a bunch of Irish travelers to coerce pensioners out of thousands of pounds, in return for a measly wage and near-starvation. I guess it's pricks like them that fuel the media's insane hatred of travelers. I asked Matt what happened.
VICE: Hi Matt. So, how did these guys entice you into this world of glorified slave labor?
Matt: Well, I kind of knew the main guy already—I worked for one of his sons—and he just knocked on my door one day asking if I wanted to go and work in Holland. He said he'd give me a nice, luxury mobile home to live in, pay for all my food, all my drink, all my fags, etc., so it sounded like a pretty good deal. He also told me I only had one hour to decide, so I thought, 'Fuck it, I'll be working in a weed-legal country with everything paid for—what's not to like?'
OK. So how did that work out for you?
He picked me up the next evening, put me on a ferry, drove me out to the middle of nowhere and told me to start working. By the time we arrived, it was 5AM and I'd been awake that whole time. I was expected to start work with nothing being explained to me. Eventually I figured out that we weren't even in Holland, we were in Belgium, but I didn't have a clue because no one would tell me anything the whole way over there.
Good start. What did they have you doing?
I was just clearing up a garden, ready for them to gravel it. Obviously they didn't use proper stuff, though, they were using sand and ballast, just throwing it down, ripping people off. They're complete cowboys.
James "Big Jim" Connors (left), and Tommy Connors were arrested last year after police found 24 "slaves" the pair had allegedly been keeping in a camp in Leighton Buzzard
And what was your "luxury mobile home" like? Will Smith's trailer, I assume?
Ha, actually, the night I got there they didn't have anything ready at all, so I had to sleep in one of the trucks with this Lithuanian bloke who couldn't speak any English. And yeah, they had promised me this amazing place with a TV, gas cooker and all that—they said it would be something nice enough that my girlfriend could come out and have a little holiday with me—but it turned out to be just fucking disgusting. It was literally falling apart with mould, there was no gas, no sheets or pillows on the bed, and most of the windows were smashed in. You could turn the light on and off, but that was the most luxurious thing it had going for it.
It was a fucking piss-take. The caravan park it was in was alright, there was a nice lake nearby and that, and quite a few hot traveler girls on top of the caravans, scrubbing away at them with toothbrushes. But if any of the dads or brothers caught you having a peep at the girls you'd have your head kicked in, so that ruined that. The worst part of it all was that they kept going out, finding people to work for them and cramming them in that same caravan with me, until there were five or six of us sharing this freezing, shitty little trailer.
I would have packed my bags by that point, I think.
Well, yeah, but I thought, "I've come out here, I might as well stay out here and try and make some money." They also said they were gonna buy us our meals every day or cook for us or whatever, but from the moment I left until the end of the first night—well over 24 hours—all they gave me was a sausage. I got a bit of food the next day but nothing at all the next day or the day after that, and the nearest shop was over an hour's walk away, which isn't exactly what you want to do after working the 16-hour days they had us doing.
Would they have let you walk off to the shop by yourself after work?
Yeah, I think they probably would, but they were more lenient with me because they knew my dad. If they didn't know my dad then I'm sure they would have taken advantage way more. They treated the Lithuanian guy like a total piece of shit—didn't give him any food or drink for three days straight—and you couldn't drink the tap water out there, so they were basically starving him. Then I saw a couple of Romanian blokes they'd picked up, and they were paying them maybe 15 euros a day and giving them a jar of mayonnaise between them for their weekly food.
So that is essentially slave labor then: Next to no food or drink and pittance for pay.
Yeah, and the stuff they had us doing was despicable. One job was for this old lady—very old, I mean, she must have been in her nineties—who wanted her driveway redone because it was full of potholes. We turned up and the guy I was with told her he'd do it for £11,000, which is obviously a complete rip-off. She told him no, so he screamed a load of horrible shit at her, purposefully snapped the piece of plywood covering some of the bigger potholes with his truck and just drove off. She could hardly walk as it was, and there was no way she was getting her car out of the driveway after that.
So he basically made her house-bound on purpose because she wouldn't pay him £11,000?
Yeah, exactly. That same guy once dropped me off at a job at, like, 11.30 AM, said he was just popping down the shops and didn't come back for me until half 12 that night. I finished what I needed to do after about ten minutes at the most, and sat on this lady's wall in the rain, in my jeans and T-shirt, for 13 hours waiting for him. I mean, there are worse things going in the world than a bloke sitting in the rain, but I didn't have anything on me, no phone or nothing, and thought I'd just been abandoned.
Was that some kind of power-play ritual?
Nah, they got back and gave me some bullshit excuse about the police pulling them over, which somehow took half a day to sort out. I went mental at them. All my fags had been smoked and they were all drunk, so I'd been sat there all day while they'd fucked off to the pub with five of their cousins and got blind drunk on the money they were supposed to be paying me.
Was that your breaking point?
Yeah, that next morning I packed my stuff and told them to take me to the train station. The first lot of guys flat out told me I couldn't leave, that I had to stay, but I asked a different bloke in the caravan park and he ended up giving me a lift. So, all the money I had earned out there—which was a lot less that I'd thought it would be, seeing as I had to buy all my own food and drink—went on a train ticket back home. So, I went out there to get money for a car and came back with nothing.
That sucks. Wait. They wouldn't let you leave?
Yeah. Well, they just refused to take me anywhere. They asked me what I had going for me at home that was better than this, and I was like, "Well, my life, my friends, my job, my family, a bedroom that isn't covered in mould," and he started off on one about how I "didn't need my mummy any more," which I thought was a bit rich coming from someone who was supposedly all about family.
"Matt" in happier days
Did you see anyone else out there in the same situation as you—basically abducted from the UK? Supposedly it's happening a fair bit.
Yeah, I met a couple of lads from Yorkshire. One of them was in a similar situation to me, and the other lad was on the run—he was supposed to be going to prison—so he went out there and that was the only work he could get. Then there was another guy, like me, who got taken out to Belgium with them and lost his passport, so he's stuck out there.
Have you had any trouble with them since you got home?
Yeah, they'll come knock on my door every now and then and try and give me orders, like, "You're going to start working for me again," or, "You're gonna give me your truck," saying it like it's fact. It's weird with them—they act like nothing bad ever happened, and there's no point in reporting it because the law can't touch them. They've still got most of the tools I brought out there, which I know I'm never getting back. I'm just gonna stay away from them and not let them think they have any power over me. You just have to say no and they'll be alright with you. If you show you're scared—show them they can take advantage—you're gonna be a slave the rest of your life.
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_clifton
Want more real-life stories? Heard the one about the Secret Chain Pub Piss Dungeon?