For serial loan shark Stuart Hitchings, ‘Craig’ was an easy victim. He befriended him and then took all his money. But thanks to Craig’s bravery, and the hard work of the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, Hitchings was caught, and sent to prison.
Craig comes across a really nice, young man,” Joanne told us. “You wouldn’t notice anything about him until you talked to him. But then you realised he behaved like someone much younger than he really was. He had a severe learning disability. He was easy prey.”
Quids in! is talking to two undercover officers from the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit, Joanne and Phil, in a cafe in central Cardiff. We’re discussing one of the more disturbing cases they’ve seen in recent years. Craig’s name has been changed to protect him, but everything else they tell us is true.
Loan sharks pick on anybody who’s desperate. There’s no such thing as a typical victim. They’ll lend you money and you’ll be in debt to them for ever. And it’s hard to get out of their grip… Phil takes up the story: “Craig comes across as a bit lonely, and he was easily ‘befriended’ by Stuart Hitchings’s daughter. Stuart Hitchings was a loan shark. They made a fuss of Craig – convinced him to move out to live near them in Aberdare, and promised to look after him – even to cook him a meal every day. We call it ‘grooming’.
“Stuart then started to loan Craig small amounts of money. He needed help with the deposit for the house next door they suggested he move into. Stuart was all too happy to help. And Craig liked playing what he called the ‘ting-tings’ – slot machines to us. Again Stuart was ‘kind’ enough to help.
“Within a few weeks Hitchings had convinced Craig to hand over his bank card, and pin number. Craig was getting income support and a Disability Living Allowance which came to more than £300 every fortnight. Hitchings would take it all out. If Craig needed any money he had to ‘borrow’ it from Stuart. Hitchings was making him borrow his own money.
“And Hitchings would tell Craig that he was making sure the gas and electricity were being paid, but not bothering to do that at all. Craig would have been made homeless if the local authority hadn’t stepped in to help pay his rent.”
“Craig was scared of Stuart,” cuts in Joanne. “He used to be woken in the middle of the night by a great banging on his door, but when he got downstairs to open it there’d be noone there.”
“We only found out about it when another victim of Hitchings got in touch with our hot line,” continues Phil, “and while we were investigating that we found out about Craig.”
Our story has a happy ending, though. “We interviewed Craig and he was really, really good, though it can’t have been easy for him,” says Phil. Craig later testified against Hitchings in court via a one-way video link, and thanks to his evidence Hitchings went to prison. Craig is now living somewhere else and rebuilding his life.
Quids in! says…
If you or someone you know has been lent money illegally you should get in touch with one of the hotlines below straight away and put an end to the misery. It is not a crime to borrow money from a loan shark, only to lend it, so you need not be worried that you will get in trouble. You will get to speak to someone straight away who will take action.
In England firstname.lastname@example.org ✆ 0300 555 2222
In Wales email@example.com ✆ 0300 123 3311