Simon Read: Hitting back at the law-breaking sharks

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The Independent Online

Loan shark John Kiely was jailed for five years this week. The 36-year-old was described as a "ruthless individual" by Judge Adrian Smith and was found guilty of offences including blackmail and illegal money lending. He preyed on poor families on Manchester housing estates to build up a £3m fortune in just five years between October 2003 and his arrest.

One of his victims – auxiliary nurse Donna Ockerby – borrowed £300 from Kiely to pay for her wedding dress. But she then faced aggressive demands for money when she struggled to repay the debt, including the frightening moment when a concrete block was thrown at her window just hours after a debt collector called. The loan shark, who drove around in a black Ranger Rover with a personalised number plate, was told by Judge Smith that he operated "in a sinister and deliberately menacing way".

He charged his victims an astonishing 2,500 per cent interest and used his gains to pay cash for a £868,650 mock-Tudor seven-bedroom house, complete with turret. Sadly this story is constantly being repeated in tens of thousands of homes across the country as un- licensed money lenders get heavy with hard-pressed families forced in desperation to turn to these doorstep lenders. But the fact is that anyone lending money in this way is breaking the law and, as such, the loan doesn't have to be repaid. Of course, when a big, bullying bruiser is on your doorstep demanding cash, it's unlikely that he will accept a simply "no", so it's understandable that the loan sharks can continue their horrible activities. But families in fear can call a confidential government hotline set up in March to shut down the dodgy lenders. Victims of loan sharks – or anyone who knows of one operating – can call the hotline on 0300 555 222 and report the crime.

The Government says the hotline has already led to more than 100 prosecutions and wiped out illegal debts of more than £30m. That is to be applauded and the more we can do to bring these evil crooks to justice the better.

* There is another debate that readers can help with, about care for the elderly. It's an important issue that will affect us all. Most of us will need care when we get old – while anyone with elderly parents or grandparents may already be aware of the trauma and distress of finding the right care home. The Government has issued a Green Paper on the issue setting out plans to establish a National Care Service, delivering quality care regardless of means.

The paper proposes three alternatives: a partnership approach, an insurance plan, or a comprehensive solution, effectively a cradle-to-grave healthcare system. But questions remain about funding and delivery of all three systems.

You have your chance, until November, to add your voice to this important debate. You can make your views known by visiting www.symponia.co.uk and clicking the "Big Care Debate" button. All responses will be collated and sent directly to Health Secretary Andy Burnham's office.

s.read@independent.co.uk

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