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

Daily Record - - FRONT PAGE - GRANT McCABE

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

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