The loan sharks who prowl Britain's estates

Michael Morris
Image caption Morris, a former boxer, was jailed for four years in 2010

As credit becomes harder than ever to get for those on a low income, the BBC investigates the loan sharks who are terrorising Britain's estates.

Pauline would only give her first name. The loan shark who subjected her to a two-year campaign of intimidation is now behind bars but she is still terrified of him.

Her hands shake as she describes his midnight visits to her house.

She was a victim of Michael Morris, a former boxer who ran an illegal lending racket from his gym in Salford.

He had more than 800 "clients".

But Pauline had no idea who she was dealing with. She thought he was legitimate because he was advertising in the local paper.

She said: "My husband had a really bad accident; he couldn't work for a while and we had no money coming into the house for a few months. I didn't want to worry him and only needed a few hundred to tide us over so I phoned the person up and he came down the very same day. Within hours actually and he gave me £200 plus £15 for himself for delivery.

"He said I only needed to pay £30 a week but then he started coming two and three times a week. He was coming later and later at night when my husband was asleep. He knew nothing about the loan so I used to lie awake until I could hear him coming down the path and I'd and look out the window so he wouldn't wake him up."

No paperwork

Unlike legal lenders, most loan sharks do not give their clients any paperwork so they never know exactly how much they owe.

Pauline said: "The payments got more and more. At one stage I gave him my mortgage money which was £350 but he still kept calling and started following me to work demanding more money. So I started going into work the back way so he couldn't see whether I was working or not. He gave me an extra £300 that I didn't even ask for and said it was bonus because I'd been paying on time. But of course that had to be paid back too.

"The payments just stated getting higher and higher and on one particular day he found me coming through the front door and he followed me in to my house. Started threatening me and had another big guy with him who got my hand and took my wedding ring and engagement ring off my finger.

"He said that is payment for today. I'll be back on Wednesday, for some cash and he got me by the throat and told me that if I wasn't in on Wednesday he was going to kill my dogs."

This is the first time she has spoken out about what happened to her and her husband.

She said the shame and fear had made it impossible to talk about: "It got to the point where I couldn't cope any more and was borrowing off people just to pay him.

"I was locking myself away and I was drinking anything so I could forget but he kept coming and coming. In the end I just broke down completely."

It was only when Pauline was taken to hospital for a suspected heart attack that her husband found out.

Doctors told her it was a panic attack brought on by stress.

She said: "My husband came back and said to him: 'How much is going to cost for you to leave us alone?' He wanted £3,000 so he cashed in his pension and paid him off and we only saw him once after that.

"I'd only borrowed £500 and nearly lost everything. I hope and pray that anyone who needs money finds out first where they are going to get their money from... Just don't go through what I went through. I almost lost my husband and my home."

Morris was jailed for four years in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to blackmail, criminal damage, affray and illegal money lending.

But the authorities estimate there are thousands of loan sharks operating across the UK.

Tony Quigley, head of the Illegal Money Lending Team for England, said: "It's extortion. There is a loan shark in every single community where there is a market. On every estate in the UK there will be people illegally lending money. They are everywhere. But people rarely come forward because they are so scared.

"What we're dealing with here are people who prey on the most vulnerable community members. We're seeing offences of blackmail, kidnapping, wounding, assault, over small debts.

"We've seen examples when loan sharks have appeared with your children, they've walked them home from school and that must be so frightening for a young single mum. People have been kidnapped off the street and then tortured, cut with a machete, this is the sort of thing we're seeing in today's society."

Image caption Jay describes himself as a "doorstep lender"

Single mothers

Mr Quigley said 76% of the victims they had come across were single mothers.

His team arrested more than 500 people last year: "The numbers are rising. People are finding it harder and harder to access credit so the illegal lending are flooding into that market. Where there's desperation and deprivation - they'll be there. They're operating the length and breadth of the country"

We tracked down one loanshark to Eltham in south east London.

Jay runs a team of eight men and they call themselves "doorstep lenders".

He laughs at the suggestion that it is a euphemism for a loan shark.

"We only loan people money who can't get credit elsewhere. We start customers off on £200 and they have to pay £600 on that at £30 a week and then if they miss a payment it goes up. They get charged thirty quid for missing a payment and it just goes on like that," says Jay.

That works out at 3,600% a month if you make your payments but if you fall behind and add compound interest it could be as much as 17 million percent APR.

Jay said business had never been better. He said most of his new clients were single mothers who were struggling with costs of food and fuel.

He says: "Women are the best to deal with; they get scared a bit easier so they always come through with the money. Just threaten them and the money's there.

"It's usually people on social - most people get their money on the Tuesday and we've got a big round and we go round every week and collect their money.

"We just go round, knock on the door and if they don't pay we do things like take people's log book's for the cars, if they don't pay we take their cars, the person who's stood guarantor for them, we go round and collect off of them."

'Easy money'

"We'll get it somehow, we'll take tellies, things like that, they normally find it in the end. Well they've got to sort something out ain't they? They can't just wipe their mouth with it. If they don't pay then they all have to get a bit of a slap and that usually works."

Jay and his syndicate loaned £80,000 last year and said they more than doubled their money.

"It's easy. Why would anyone need a real job when you can do this? And it's getting easier and easier as people get poorer and poorer," he says.

There are more than 300,000 families in hock to loan sharks in England alone - and they are just the ones who have come forward. The authorities believe there are thousands more too terrified to speak out.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites