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Homeless man 'enslaved and beaten if he tried to escape'

Court hears evidence against four men led by figure known as The Tank Commander.

High Court: Mr Keith said he suffered regular beatings (file pic).
High Court: Mr Keith said he suffered regular beatings (file pic). PA

A homeless man was taken into slavery and beaten when he tried to escape, a court has heard.

James Keith was sleeping rough in Glasgow in the 1990s when he was approached by a man outside the Barras market and asked if he was looking for work.

Mr Keith was then taken to a nearby travellers' site close to the Gallowgate and introduced to Robert "Bobby" McPhee, who went by the nickname of The Tank Commander.

Mr Keith, now 41, told the High Court in Glasgow that after meeting McPhee he was housed in a caravan with no toilet or running water.

He was then forced to work as a labourer at sites across Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian.

Mr Keith said a typical day involved "slabbing and tarring... you worked until the job was finished".

He was "just paid whenever" as "that was the way it was", the court heard.

In evidence, Mr Keith said he also had to hand out leaflets in a bid to generate new work.

Mr Keith told the trial he would be beaten if these failed to elicit the desired response.

The court heard Mr Keith tried to escape while staying at a site in Maryhill, Glasgow.

He went to a hostel but told jurors he was "captured".

'Bobby had come in looking for me. I went into a van because I had no option - that was just the way it was.'
James Keith

Mr Keith recalled: "Bobby had come in looking for me. I went into a van because I had no option - that was just the way it was."

He said he got "battered" when they returned to the site.

The witness then claimed Robert McPhee's son James had bought him from his father and he could only be released if he handed over "a good few grand".

He added he considered going to the police but had been too frightened.

Mr Keith was giving evidence on the second day of the trial of four men accused of slavery and violence.

Robert McPhee, 65, James McPhee, 45, Steven McPhee, 37, and John Miller, 38, face a total of 30 charges spanning 24 years between 1992 to 2016.

The four deny all the charges and the trial, before Lady Stacey, continues.

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