Loan shark task force launched in England

01/04/11

Katie-Jo Shields and Carol Highton

It's thought the number of people who owe money to loan sharks has doubled in the past four years.

For the first time there's now a national team to tackle the problem across England.

Newsbeat's seen new figures suggesting a quarter of victims are under 26 years of age.

Criminal loan sharks charge massive interest rates and threaten their victims with violence when they can't keep up with payments.

Twenty-five-year-old Katie-Jo Shields from Runcorn in Cheshire says she lost her brother after he became involved with a loan shark.

'Making threats'

Brian Shields committed suicide in December 2005 days after his 22nd birthday.

He'd borrowed £300 but 12 weeks later owed £3,400.

Brian had tried to tell Katie-Jo about his problems.

"He said he had a friend who was in trouble with a loan shark," she said. "They were making threats with guns and saying what they were going to do to his family.

"I said, 'Tell your mate to go to the police,' and he said, 'You can't do that it, it only makes it worse.'

"It was only afterwards that we realised the threats were for us and that's what Brian was trying to say."

Last year Brian's mum Carol Highton started The Brian Shields Trust, a charity offering support to loan shark victims.

She said: "These people come with the biggest, friendliest smile, offer you a way out and act like they're your best friend. Do not be sucked in by them."

The man who loaned money to Brian was 39-year-old loan shark Paul Nicholson.

He had more than 800 other "customers" and was eventually jailed for rape, blackmail and assault after an investigation by an illegal money lending team based in Birmingham.

'No typical victim'

From today (1 April) that group takes over responsibility for tackling loan sharks across England.

Up to 30 trading standards officers, including ex-police and benefit fraud investigators, will be sent onto estates where loan sharks have been found to operate.

They'll also work with housing associations and credit unions to make sure staff know how to spot potential victims.

Jacqui Kennedy from Birmingham city council runs the team.

"There's no typical loan shark and no typical victim," she said.

"We have people who've borrowed money because they've just passed their driving test and want to buy a car, or to go on holiday because their mates are all going."

Critics, however, have warned that basing the team in Birmingham could make the problem worse because local squads are being scrapped in the shake-up.

In the north-east, the union Unison described the changes as "a disaster".

But Carol denies that: "By bringing together the one team we have reduced the number of managers and supervisors, so we've actually got more investigators tackling the problem across England."

Scotland and Wales will have their own dedicated teams.