News item

Convicted loan sharks ordered to pay back more than £300,000

trading standardsA father and son who were convicted of operating as loan sharks have been ordered to pay back all of their available assets to the courts, following a financial investigation by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, working in partnership with Lancashire Trading Standards.  

James Alston Senior from Preston, Lancashire had assets amounting to £242,522, whilst is son James Alston Junior had assets amounting to £70,761. In a judgement from HHJ Stuart Baker last week, they must pay back this amount before May 2014 or Alston Senior will face a default sentence of 33 months in prison and Alston Junior will face a default sentence of 18 months in prison.

This is in addition to a forfeiture order of nearly £20,000 which was seized from the pair by the Gambling Commission earlier this year. 

In July 2012 James Alston Senior now aged 75 and James Alston Junior now aged 46, were sentenced after being convicted of charges of illegal money lending, money laundering and possessing criminal property from the proceeds of acting as an unlicensed bookmaker. Senior was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Junior was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

The criminal investigation and prosecution was led by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working in partnership with the Gambling Commission and Lancashire Trading Standards. 

At a hearing in September Ben Mills on behalf of the prosecution told Preston Crown Court, how the Alstons made more than £600,000 over a period of six years and six months through the illegal money lending business and illegal bookmaking.
 
Their assets included four houses, a motor vehicle and cash in their bank accounts.

Many of the Alston’s borrowers were friends with them before taking out a loan for everyday essentials, but were soon hit with steep interest payments.  One victim, who borrowed £1000, was told he was to pay back £1500 in three monthly instalments. 

Borrowers were never given paperwork so kept completely in the dark as to how much they were actually repaying.

During a search of their homes in June 2010, £19,000 in cash was seized along with documentary evidence. Seniors notebook records showed a list of 32 names of people he had lent money. His son was found with records listing in the region of 30 names.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said: “Loan sharks are a blight on society and this criminal activity needs to be stamped out. As this case shows, illegal lenders prey on those most vulnerable, using bullying and harassment to trap them in a spiral of debt. 

"The successful prosecution by the England Illegal Money Lending Team and Lancashire Trading Standards sends out a clear message to loan sharks. We are clamping down on illegal lenders and you will be brought to justice.

“As well as prosecution, we can stop the problem at the source by making sure people have access to affordable lending. If anyone finds themselves in financial difficulty, they can turn to free debt advice and speak to the Money Advice Service on 0300 500 5000. “
 
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.”

Janice Hanson, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for public protection and waste, said: "People like the Alstons cause total misery to people who have the misfortune to borrow money from them. It's hard to imagine how frightening it must be for victims who are faced with having to pay back considerably more than they had borrowed in the first place at extortionate levels of interest.

"I would like to congratulate those officers from the England Illegal Money Lending Team, and our own trading standards service for their hard work and commitment in protecting the community from unscrupulous loan sharks. 

"This successful prosecution sends out a clear message to criminals; we won't stand by and allow you to profit from illegal money lending." 
 
Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “Under proceeds of crime legislation we are able to strip loan sharks of their assets leaving them with no power basis to start again.

Today’s hearing sends a clear message that we will continue to crack down on this criminal activity which has such a detrimental impact on individuals and communities. The cash will be ploughed back into communities and used to help combat this crime through awareness raising and education.

If you or someone you know has been affected by a loan shark, there is help available. Please call us on 0300 555 2222 to speak to a trained investigator in confidence.”  

Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured 293 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to more than 176 years worth of custodial sentences.

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 or Tom Walker Senior Media Officer at Lancashire County Council on 01772 534372  or email tom.walker@lancashire.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

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. 

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: 18 NOVEMBER 2013