News item

North West loan shark trio imprisoned

Three people who operated an extensive illegal money lending business across the North West of England have been imprisoned following a hearing at Chester Crown Court yesterday.

John Radford, 57 of Park Road, Great Sankey in Warrington, Paul Holman, 35 from Redpoll Grove in Halewood, Knowsley and Sindy Hope, 50 from Castle Rise in Runcorn were convicted following a 12 day trial of their involvement in the illegal money lending business, between October 2010 and March 2012.

Radford was sentenced to 30 months in prison, whilst Holman and Hope were sentenced to 10 months in prison. 

Radford was previously convicted of two firearms offences, after a loaded revolver gun and a quantity of ammunition was uncovered during a search of his home. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of the gun, and two years for possession of the ammunition to be served concurrently. His sentence for illegal money lending will run consecutively to this.

A number of other weapons including machetes, knuckle dusters and red pepper spray were found during the warrant in March 2012. In addition over £17,000 was seized from safes in his home. 

The investigations were led by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, working in partnership with Cheshire Police Financial Investigation Unit, Warrington and Halton Borough Council and Knowsley Borough Council.

On behalf of the prosecution Simon Mortimer told the court how Radford had previously worked as a legal money lender, but allowed his licence to lapse. He continued to unscrupulously generate significant wealth at the expense of vulnerable people who by the very nature of their personal and financial circumstances, had no choice but to seek funds from him, locking them into a spiral of never ending debt, high interest rates and no prospect of ever concluding their dependency on him. 

Radford engaged both Holman and Hope in intrinsic roles collecting payments, brokering new and additional loans and intimidating people who defaulted, making them equally culpable of the illegal offences.  

The trio operated predominantly in the Liverpool and Halton areas and at the point of their arrest in March 2012 were due an estimated return in excess of £420,000.  A search of their home uncovered vast amounts of documentation relating to the illegal money lending business.

Investigators from the England Illegal Money Lending Team analysed the loan records uncovered from the homes of each of three defendants and saw that in a six week period, they had approximately 130 customers, who owed them almost £100,000.
Radford profited greatly at the expense of others through the illegal business. He lived in a large detached property and had 17 other properties which he rented out. He owned a total of nine vehicles, and had more than £775,000 across five bank accounts, despite declaring less than £250,000 as his income through employment and renting properties since 2003.

Interest was varied with people often paying back at least double what they had borrowed. Although some borrowers signed an agreement, these weren’t legally enforceable and they were never given any paperwork to keep track of the loan themselves. In some cases interest was never even discussed. Late payment fees were sometimes added at £10 a day. 

One victim who took out a loan for £1000 was forced to pay back £60 every week for a year, meaning they paid back more than three times what they had borrowed. As they began to struggle with repayments, they were forced to take out further loans from Radford, Holman and Hope to repay the first. As the debt spiralled, they were told the owed more than £13,000.  

Radford, Holman and Hope were known to threaten borrowers telling them they were due “A hiding” or that they would take their home or send bailiffs.

Upon sentencing His Honour Judge Trigger said “Radford was as a slippery as an eel. He took every opportunity to deflect the blame onto someone else and deliberately attempted to avoid any scrutiny or detection. Radford was the centre of the operation, he employed Holman and Hope to do the dirty work and go collecting on his behalf. Even though they would earn 8-10% of the money collected. In the four years between 2007 and 2011, Radford lent put £310,000 and was due to receive double back- this was a very profitable business. He charged £10 a day in repayment fees, and even if they weren’t enforced, they were there to cause customers anxiety. These type of offences require a custodial sentence as a deterrent.”

Radford has been remanded in custody since his arrest and was sentenced for the firearms offences in December.

The chairman of the National Trading Standards Board Lord Toby Harris said: "Loan sharks target the most vulnerable in society and often trap them for years – even decades – with crippling repayments, destroying lives of individuals and their families.

“Trading standards are working extremely hard to tackle these despicable criminals –the specialist Illegal Money Lending Team, funded by the National Trading Standards Board, is making a real difference in communities all over the country. The team provides a safe haven enabling victims to come forward and works together with local authority trading standards services, and other partners, to bring loan sharks to justice.

“We would urge anyone in the grips of a loan shark to call 0300 555 2222 in confidence to report the criminal and to get help.”

Cllr David Keane, executive board member for environment and public protection at Warrington Borough Council, said: "Loan sharks are criminals who prey on vulnerable people such as single parents, the elderly, or people on benefits who can suffer harassment, threats, and spiralling financial difficulties. There are teams of professionals up and down the country dedicated to catching them and prevent them from taking advantage of people.

"There is also help and advice available and so anyone who owes money to a loan shark or want to help someone else, please get in touch today."

A spokesperson for Knowsley Council said: “These sentences clearly show that we will not allow loan sharks to take advantage of innocent victims in our communities. We work closely with our partners to gather intelligence to put illegal money lenders before the courts. Help and support is only a phone call away for people whose lives are being made a misery by loan sharks.”

Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “This case exemplifies how we are cracking down on loan sharks, who exploit and extort the vulnerable for their own personal gain. These criminals are not untouchable, and can be stopped.

Loan sharks who threaten borrowers, and use intimidation and fear to force people into repaying everything they have, will not be tolerated. This was a large scale criminal enterprise which left people across the North West living in fear and with little or nothing to get by on, all because of the greed of these three individuals. 
If you have been the victim of a loan shark, we can put an end to their criminal activity. Please call 0300 555 2222. Lines are open 24/7 and all calls are treated in the strictest confidence”

DI Dave Blood, from Cheshire Police’s Financial Investigation Unit, said: “Through the close working relationship between Cheshire Police, the Illegal Money Lending Team and other agencies - a dangerous criminal, who preyed on the vulnerable people of Cheshire, profiting from fear and bringing misery to local communities, has been brought to justice. 

"It is clear that Radford profited greatly at the expense of others through this illegal business.

“Cheshire Police is committed to continuing to work in partnership to alleviate distress and hardship within local communities caused by unlicensed money lenders. We will not tolerate any sort of behaviour that has a negative effect on the quality of life of local people and we would urge anyone with any concerns regarding illegal money lending to seek the appropriate help and advice."

Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured 293 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 176 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £40.3 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 22,000 victims.

To report a loan shark:

Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003 
E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk 
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

***ENDS***

For more information contact Sarah-Jane Lynch, Illegal Money Lending Team communications officer, on 0121 693 1030 or 07881617119 or email sarah-jayne.lynch@birmingham.gov.uk. To speak to the National Trading Standards Board with a more general enquiry please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office on 0845 6089430 or pressoffice@tsi.org.uk.

Notes to editors

Stills from the search along with custody photographs of Radford, Holman and Hope are available.

The photographs are issued in relation to the sentencing of Radford, Holman and Hope and are the copyright of Cheshire Constabulary.  They are supplied for the purpose of contemporaneous reporting only for seven days from the point of issue, and permission must be sought and granted by the Cheshire Constabulary for reproduction of the photographs at any future date or for any other purpose other than the contemporaneous report for which it was supplied.

The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards. 

NTSB provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

The Stop Loan Sharks Project consists of three Illegal money lending teams in England, Scotland and Wales.  The NTSB has responsibility for the England and Wales Illegal Money Lending Teams that are hosted by Birmingham City Council and Cardiff Council. There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland. 

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured 293 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to more than 176 years-worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £40.3 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 22,000 people.

The Illegal Money Lending Teams in England and Wales work in partnership with local Trading Standards Authorities in their related countries. They consist of specialist officers who investigate and prosecute illegal money lending and related activity and LIAISE officers who support victims and raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders. 

DATE: 08 November 2013