Brave mum gets TSI award for joining trading standards battle against loan sharks
A brave mother who speaks out against loan sharks like the man she believes drove her son to kill himself has been honoured by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
Carol Highton, aged 46, from Runcorn, Cheshire, who now helps a trading standards team that tracks down and prosecutes illegal money lenders who prey on vulnerable people in debt, has won a prestigious TSI 'Hero' award.
The Illegal Money Lending Team is run by Birmingham City Council but now covers the North-West, Yorkshire and Humberside, South East and Central England, helping desperate people to escape the clutches of loan sharks.
Carol's son, Brian Shields, aged 22, hanged himself in December 2005 in the attic of their home in Halton Brook, Runcorn.
His mother believes that the pressure of spiralling debt after he fell into the clutches of loan shark Paul Nicholson drove him to suicide.
Nicholson, aged 39, who charged extortionate interest rates and used threats and violence to bully his victims into paying up, was jailed indefinitely in March 2009 by Warrington Crown Court after being arrested by the Birmingham Illegal Money Lending team a year earlier.
Carol has worked closely with the Illegal Money Lending Team to make appearances on television and to produce a video to highlight the problem of loan sharks and guide people in debt to safer and cheaper methods of dealing with it.
Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, who presented the 'Hero' award, said: 'Carol has been willing to champion trading standards' fight against the loan sharks so that other vulnerable people are not sucked into their greedy, seedy world.
'She is a brave lady and has done much to help us to publicise the risks of falling into the hands of loan sharks and the alternatives to help people who have run into debt.'
Jacqui Kennedy, who heads up the Illegal Money Lending Team, said: 'Carol agreed to be the public face of our campaign to drive loan sharks out of local communities - and she thoroughly deserves the 'Hero' award we nominated her for.'
Carol is now in the process of raising funds to set up the 'Brian Shields Trust' charity in memory of her son, which will employ a counsellor to advise people with money worries and signpost them to agencies that can help, such as Credit Unions, trading standards or Citizens Advice.
She said: 'Loan sharks are the scum of the earth, who prey on people who are vulnerable and desperate to get out of debt.
'I'm passionate about raising awareness so that other people don't fall into the same trap as my son.
'Although I don't need an award to do that, it did cheer me up to hear, the day after Mother's Day, that I was being given a TSI 'Hero' award - I feel it is a gift from Brian.'
The first pilot schemes of the Illegal Money Lending Teams funded by central government began, in Birmingham and Scotland, in 2004. Three years later, in recognition of their success the project was rolled out to every region of England, as well as to Scotland and Wales.
As well as the Birmingham and Scotland-based squads there are now teams in Wales, South West England, London, East Midlands and North East England, all of which are making an impact in closing down illegal money lenders.
In March this year, a new national helpline number - 0300 555 2222 - was launched for victims of loan sharks, putting them in touch with the team covering their area.
The teams have, so far, helped more than 6,000 victims, saving them from having to pay back more than £16 million to the loan sharks.
They have successfully prosecuted more than 60 illegal money lenders, resulting in prison sentences totalling over 50 years, as well as, in some cases, community service orders or rehabilitation orders. In Scotland more than 30 individuals have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
The teams have also seized over £2 million in cash and assets - at least some of the ill-gotten gains of the sharks.
Wherever possible, the seized cash is given back to the community where a loan shark has been operating - for instance, in Gosport, Hampshire, anyone opening a savings account with Hampshire Credit Union was given £20 of a local illegal money lender's cash.
Carol will receive her TSI 'Hero' award from Ron Gainsford at the Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Annual Conference and Exhibition at the Brighton Centre on Tuesday 30 June 2009 at 12.30pm.
Notes to Editors:
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office by phone on 08456 089 430 or by e-mail on email@example.com
To contact the Illegal Money Lending Team:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222
Text 'loan shark + your message' to 60003
Log-on to www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks
Further information about the Illegal Money Lending Team is available from Sarah Kirby, Communications Officer, on 0121 693 1030 or 07833 059347.
Examples of recent successes by Illegal Money Lending Teams:
* A Gloucester man was, in early June 2009, jailed for eight months at Bristol Crown Court after admitting making unlicensed loans to alcoholics and drug addicts. Ian Jenkins, aged 43, charged APR interest rates of up to 8 million per cent and notebooks found at his home showed around 55 people were dependent on him for money. Jenkins lent cash to addicts to feed their habits and then took £3 interest for every £10 borrowed. In one case, a drug addict who was loaned £106 was charged a rolling daily interest of 30%, working out at eight million per cent annually if the debt was not settled. He was caught following an investigation by the South West Illegal Money Lending Team.
* The London Illegal Money Lending Team successfully prosecuted Greg De Guzman, who targeted domestic workers in a nursing home, where he worked as a locum. He lent around £125,000 to people across south London, taking credit cards as security and imposing late payment penalties.
* The North East team recently celebrated its first prosecution, when Vicky Clayton, who charged her victims several thousand per cent APR, was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for a year. Her husband and an associate were prosecuted for possession of drugs.
* In Wales, Sharron Burton was sentenced to two years in prison for illegal lending and theft. She was a care worker, who stole £45,000 from an elderly victim, using the money to set up a loan shark business in valley communities.
* In Derby a couple was given suspended prison sentences after being prosecuted by the East Midlands team. The couple used at least three enforcers, one of whom was their son, to ensure 'debts' of over £100,000 were paid back. Victims included a man with cerebral palsy, who was assaulted over non-payment, and an elderly woman who borrowed £6,000 and ended up paying £66,000.
* In Scotland Joseph Gault was jailed for a year for illegal lending. He operated outside a pub in the Shettleston area of Glasgow, an area renowned for its economic and health problems. Gault charged £3 for every £10 loaned, per week on a cumulative basis.
* In Birmingham a man was jailed for 30 months after pleading guilty to illegal lending, blackmail and possession of counterfeit DVDs. John Delaney targeted staff at the industrial unit where he worked, offering them loans and counterfeit goods but giving them no paperwork. One of his clients received threatening text messages after missing payments
The Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009
The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2009, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is a 'must' for consumer journalists!
The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.
The 2009 Conference is being held at the Brighton Centre from Tuesday 30 June to Thursday 02 July. The conference press office will be open from 9am on Monday 29 June (the day before the event starts) until 5pm on Thursday 02 July.
Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.
The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Peter Denard and the main sponsor is the British Toy and Hobby Association.
Some 3,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!
Trading Standards Institute
The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.
Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.
TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.
They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions