A man who escaped from a life of slavery at the hands of the notorious Rooney family has told Sky News of his despair that he did not try to report them earlier.
In an exclusive interview, Rod Smith, 46, who now lives back in the north east of England, explained how he had fallen on hard times in the early 1990s and was sleeping rough on the streets of London outside Waterloo station.
It was there one night in 1991 that he was picked up by members of the Rooney family who promised him work and somewhere to live.
“I bit their hand off,” he said.
“I was just begging then, I’d fallen out of the army, my life was a mess and what they were promising me was an opportunity – I just wanted (to get) off the streets.”
For the next year he laboured for the family business laying driveways, his wages were often withheld.
He was made to hand over his benefits and forced to live in an outdoor toilet building throughout winter.
Mr Smith told Sky News: “They made me live in this cold brick toilet on their site in Washingborough just outside Lincoln, there was no choice like.”
“Bridget (the mother) controlled what we ate. I always depended on them for food – they had us trapped.”
It was during a driveway job in Folkestone in Kent the following year that Mr Smith was set upon once again by members of the family.
“They beat the s*** out of me, I had to lift my lip off my tooth because the tooth had gone through it when they hit me.
“I just thought I’ve had enough.
“It was 2am. Everyone was asleep and I just slipped out of a caravan and hitchhiked north, I was terrified they’d find me so I only hitchhiked at night and eventually got back up home to the Northeast.”
Mr Smith was unaware of the investigation into the Rooney family that led to nine of them being jailed on Tuesday in Nottingham.
It was only when he saw the coverage of the trial that he realised it was the same family and that a new generation of the travellers had continued the abuse he had suffered in the 90s.
Lincolnshire police worked with 18 further victims who they described as modern day slaves – many of their stories mirror Rod Smith’s account back in 1991/92.
“I never spoke out to anybody … I regret it and I regret earning them so much money because that land that they now have, I was the person that earned them the money to buy that land.
“So all those people that have suffered that is partly down to me.”
Mr Smith broke down in tears.
“I never spoke out and I should have spoken out years ago and maybe all those people might not have suffered, but I was just so relieved to get away… I just tried to move on.”
On hearing that nine family members have now been given lengthy custodial sentences, Mr Smith said: “I’m glad they’ve been put away, I believe in karma and they deserve punishment but prison isn’t enough for them – they have got meals and a nice warm bed, it’s more than what I had.”
“I have moved on but still don’t have many friends because I don’t trust people now.”