A MAN'S life was made 'hell' by being forced to work at an Oxford traveller's site to clear an 'endless' debt created by taking out a £50 loan, a court has heard.

Michael Joyce, 60, of Redbridge Hollow, denies five modern slavery charges relating to forced labour and exploitation of two men between April 1, 2016 and January 30, 2018.

Kim Preston, setting out the case for the prosecution at the start of his retrial at Oxford Crown Court yesterday, said the ‘vulnerable’ men had been ‘groomed’ by Joyce who took advantage of mental illness and drug use over an 18-month period.

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He made them carry out work, including building a pub at the back of his home, for little or nothing, the court heard.

In December, Joyce, his sons John and Michael, as well as David Boiling, of Northfield Close, Littlemore, faced the same charges.

The three other men were acquitted but the jury could not reach a verdict on Joyce senior.

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One of the alleged victims, Paul West, giving evidence via video link yesterday, said he first became involved with Joyce by taking out a £50 ‘double bubble’ loan – meaning the money would have to be repaid plus, the same amount again – in 2016.

The 50-year-old, who has bipolar disorder, said he was told Joyce would come to collect the £100 one week later, but this was at the last minute changed so he had to return the money to Redbridge Hollow. He said he was unable to do so because he lived in Berinsfield and did not have a car.

From there things 'spiralled', according to Mr West. The debt was ‘continuous’ after that initial missed payment, doubling each time.

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Soon every fortnight Joyce would call Mr West on the day he received his benefits, according to Mr West, driving him to a cash point if he didn't have the money.

By the summer of 2016, Mr West said he was also being forced to work at the Redbridge Hollow traveller's site, which is off Abingdon Road, sometimes for £10 a day or a small bag of tobacco.

Mr West said he would never ‘take it for granted’ that he would be paid and there were ‘plenty of days’ when he did not get a thing for doing labouring work from 9.30am to 7pm.

The prosecution allege Joyce or his sons would pick up and drop off the alleged victims and exacerbated the pair's use of heroin and crack cocaine by taking them to collect methadone prescriptions or drugs.

Mr West said his drug taking ‘spiralled out of control’ until he was fully addicted.

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Asked by Ms Preston if he believed a heroin addict was a reliable labourer, he said: “It’s an easy labourer. If you have got somebody reliant on something they are very vulnerable."

The prosecution also allege Joyce forced both men to become involved in illegal activity, Mr West recounting on one occasion he collected a suitcase from London that 'stank of weed', another when he was told his car had been involved in a collision near that never happened but was claimed on insurance.

Mr West said he was ‘petrified’ of Joyce, explaining: “I used to cry myself to sleep. My life was not in a good place.

“It was just a constant battle with every aspect of my day to day life. It revolved around Michael Joyce.”

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He added: “As much as the last two years of my life have been turned upside down and so has my family's, I’m in a better place. They used and abused myself and Paul.

“My life with the Joyce’s was hell."

Ms Preston said ‘implicit threats’ were made to Mr West, his partner and his elderly father who lived nearby in the village of Little Milton.

Mr West said: “It was when my father died and that threat ended that I had the courage to go to police.”

He reported Joyce to police at the end of January 2018, just weeks after his elderly father's death. Joyce was arrested in June last year.

The trial continues.