A Blackpool pensioner who battled unscrupulous loan sharks for 20 years has praised a scheme to give back their ill-gotten gains to community projects.
Jeannette Sharratt, 75, of Grasmere Road, was chased and threatened for two decades as illegal money lenders she turned to in the 1980s inflated her £2,450 loan to a debt of almost £100,000.
The debt was wiped by a judge at Blackpool County Court in 2005, but by that stage Mrs Sharratt had sold her furniture and even her diamond engagement ring.
She recalls: “I thought ‘Even God can’t help me’.
“But it’s no good sitting here crying. My children had grown up terrified.
“I still have no carpets, curtains, furniture or wallpaper, thanks to loan sharks. It went on for years.”
The Illegal Money Lending Team, a group of investigators who prosecute loan sharks, has now introduced a scheme to give confiscated cash to projects which raise awareness of illegal lending.
Jeannette backs this idea, but sadly there was no such support for her when money lenders made her life hell.
Before their involvement with loan sharks, they had been a normal happy family. Jeannette and her husband had five children and he ran his own taxi rank in the resort.
But a nasty accident triggered a catalogue of horror for the young family.
Mr Sharratt had gone to a late night shop and fallen badly on a girder someone had placed in the road.
The fall nearly killed him, causing blood clots on lungs and he couldn’t work. He went from owning his own taxi rank to not being able to even drive.
Jeannette says: “We had five little kids. We both signed the paperwork to borrow £2,000 and added £450 on, which we thought was all right.
“I childminded, took other people’s washing in, and did anything to make money to keep up the repayments but then we made a late payment and they slapped £10,000 on top of it.”
The debt grew and grew as the Sharratts were unable to pay the loan sharks, and they were threatened.
She says: “I patrolled the house all night. I had sold my bed anyway - the only thing I never sold was the children’s clothes.”
In the end, terrified Jeannette stood firm and refused to pay them.
A court ruling in 2005 went in their favour, wiping out the debt but the family didn’t get a penny back of the money had paid out.
But a series of tragedies brought their new found relief to an abrupt end.
Just a week after their victory, Mr Sharratt suffered a stroke, leaving him house-bound, and later passed away. She then lost her daughter to a brain tumour.
Their son died from cancer, and her granddaughter was also diagnosed with cancer.
She said: “Loan sharks ruined our lives. I think if anyone can get back money from them and raise awareness of the dangers, it’s wonderful.”
The criminals usually appear friendly at first but quickly trap their borrowers into spiralling debt.
As the debts can’t legally be enforced many lenders resort to the most extreme and callous methods to enforce repayments including threats, violence and intimidation.
Paperwork is rarely offered so victims are often in the dark as to how much they are actually paying.
Exorbitant extra amounts are randomly added and some loan sharks have been known to take victim’s possessions items as “security” including passports, driving licences or even bank or post office cards with the PIN in order to withdraw directly from borrowers’ accounts.
Previously Trading Standards had a duty to investigate illegal lenders under the Consumer Credit Act, but in 2008 the Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), made up of highly experienced investigators, was created by Birmingham Trading Standards as a pilot project in England, and was authorised to operate in Blackpool the same year.
The IMLT has since secured more than 370 prosecutions nationally for illegal money lending and related activity, since its inception, leading to nearly 318 years’ worth of custodial sentences, and writing off £71.9m illegal debt.
However, it was not able to give figures for Blackpool’s current situation.
Previous research by Lancashire Trading Standards, which covers Wyre and Fylde, showed ruthless loansharks were thought to have targeted 3,300 homes in Lancashire,
The IMLT has announced the illegal profits will be used to fund community projects to raise awareness of loan sharking - something Jeannette supports.
Tony Quigley, head of service for the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We are launching our national POCA funding scheme again this year and are
encouraging charities, community groups and schools to bid for the cash available.
“Loan sharks are a scourge on our communities, and can have a huge detrimental impact on the lives of their victims.
“We’re looking to use proceeds of crime money to fund something positive and help prevent these criminals from operating in the future. If your project meets our criteria, then get in touch as we’d like to hear about your idea.”