SLAVE GANG MASTERS
Brutal clan led by fearsome father nicknamed the Tank Commander are convicted of a savage campaign of kidnappings, intimidation and punishment beatings against vulnerable workers who they held in captivity
A RUTHLESS gang who kept up to 50 terrified men as slaves were behind bars last night.
Robert McPhee - known as the Tank Commander – his sons James and Steven and son-in-law John Miller were found guilty of crimes against eight men. But detectives
ONE victim of the McPhees finally realised he was being treated as a slave when he was swapped for a TRUCK, police have revealed.
And they believe the number of slaves who fell into the clutches of the gang could be as high as 50.
As the men who called themselves the “Kings of Scotland” faced lengthy jail sentences last night, the senior detective whose team brought to justice welcomed their convictions.
DCI Kevin Jamieson said: “It is too soon to say we have dismantled the whole operation but we have removed the snake’s head.”
Ringleader Robert McPhee, his sons Steven and James and his son-in-law John Miller have been remanded in custody to await sentence next month.
And Jamieson believes the eight victims identified in court could represent only a fraction of the true human toll of their crimes.
He believes there could be up to 50 victims who were exploited by the gang, some from as far afield as eastern Europe.
He said: “I think there are victims we haven’t identified and we would like them to come forward.”
For DCI Jamieson and his eight officers from Lanarkshire CID, the prosecution of the McPhee gang became more than just another case when victim James Keith revealed he had been swapped for a truck.
The trial heard Robert McPhee, nicknamed Tank Commander, sold victim James to his son James. But Jamieson said he had actually been swapped for the vehicle.
The detective said: “The transfer of the keys was a symbol of how they viewed him in terms of a monetary value. That always stays with me, that a man could be sold for a truck. He was a commodity to them.
“I have investigated many crimes, including murders and they were all terrible but for me, the human cruelty in this case was the worst I have ever come across.
“It really was horrific. I felt so sorry for these people.
“These men were broken, crying in front of us because they had suffered so much. Their stories galvanised our team and we threw ourselves into the case. We were focused on bringing the victims justice.”
The suffering of the victims at the gang’s hands was so extreme, some walked for hundreds of miles to the south of England in the hope of escaping their clutches.
They lived in terror that the McPhees’ network of contacts would spot them at train or bus stations.
One victim, John Anderson, told how the McPhees had traced and abducted him when he ran to Cambridge.
The 18-month police investigation which led to the trial began in July 2015 with a basic tip-off. It took intensive detective work to track down potential witnesses, many of them reluctant to co-operate.
Officers worked round the clock, travelling across the UK in their search for evidence.
The victims didn’t mix and keep in touch and didn’t have criminal records so were elusive, with some in England and mainland Europe.
The historical nature of the case meant there was no CCTV and no forensics.
Jamieson said: “As the stories started to come out, it was hard to believe this
The victims were threatened with violence and forced to become subservient - and beaten almost daily
could happen in Scotland. This was good old-fashioned police work, in terms of tracing people and trying to get them to tell their story.
“Some drank to try to deal with the violence so their recollection was not always crystal clear but they still had an important story to tell.
“They were not alcoholics. They only drank to cope, which had a degenerative effect on them physically and mentally.”
The McPhees built a lucrative empire on the back of slavery, which funded a luxury lifestyle of ostentatious houses and top-of-the-range cars.
From as far back as the 90s, the men targeted homeless hostels across the country, scouring for slave labour.
Their victims were given the promise of work, food and a place to lay their head.
But when they arrived at the gang’s headquarters, including a piggery in Shotts, they found they were locked in a nightmare.
Jamieson said: “They were picking up vulnerable people, perceived to have nothing, who had no job or home and they were enticing them to come and work with them doing labouring jobs.
“Very quickly, the men were threatened with violence and forced to become subservient. There were almost daily beatings.”
The McPhees wanted only men who could carry out the gang’s lucrative business, paving driveways, roofing and gardening and they ranged in age from the age of 16 upwards.
The men were expected to cold call for prospective clients and were punished if they failed to drum up enough business.
Jamieson added: “The gang were getting richer and richer but the men working for them were getting little or nothing.”
On March 17, 2017, the McPhees’ evil empire began to crash down with a series of police raids on their premises, including the piggery.
It was a large-scale joint operation between the police and specialist partners such as the National Human Trafficking Unit.
A reception centre was set up for victims found on the premises, which included support from housing, social work, Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) and Migrant Help.
The investigators found potential victims who were Romanian but they were too scared to co-operate.
When the gang members were arrested, they denied any wrongdoing and seemed confident any case against them would collapse.
Jamieson said: “They felt untouchable and presumed people wouldn’t speak out against them. They were wrong.”
Speaking of the victims, the detective added: “A lot of them wanted their day in court. These people were subjected to years of abuse and horrific violence.
“The fact we managed to find them – give them the chance to tell their story and get a conviction – makes our team feel we have done everything we could.
“These criminals had to be removed from their own community and the community at large.”
THUGS John Miller and brothers James and Steven McPhee abducted and beat vulnerable men REIGN OF TERROR Men lived in fear of brutal gang leader Robert McPhee
GUILTY Tank Commander Robert McPhee and his younger son Steven GUILTY Robert’s older son James and his son-in-law John Miller
LAIRS The shed and, left and below, caravans on a McPhee site