Victims turning up at casualty with broken limbs and acid burns inflicted by debt collectors - and strokes, brain haemorrhages and depression brought on by the fear of crippling interest rates
Stroke: Debbie Wilson because she was so stressed out by a loan shark
Casualty units all around Britain are seeing an epidemic of injuries inflicted by loan sharks on their victims.
The problem is now so serious that doctors and nurses are getting specialist training to recognise victims who are too scared to report attacks for fear of further reprisals.
A Sunday Mirror investigation has revealed that thousands of people every year are turning up at casualty units with broken limbs and acid burns inflicted by debt collectors.
Others are being admitted following suicide attempts or with strokes, brain haemorrhages and depression brought on by the fear of not being to pay back loans at crippling interest rates.
Now, in a move to tackle the horrifying trend, one hospital has even created a dedicated area in its A&E department in a pilot scheme which campaigners say will be rolled out nationwide.
The 16-bed unit at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital has posters featuring pictures of sharks dressed in suits. They include the warning: “Don’t get in with a loan shark, it will cost you an arm and a leg.”
Yesterday one patient who has been treated there bravely revealed how she ended up in hospital after enduring “seven years of hell” at the hands of a loan shark and suffering a stroke.
Debbie Wilson borrowed £500 in 2000 but ended up paying back £88,000 – an increase of 17,500 per cent – and was forced to sell her home.
Another victim, who asked not be named, ended up at the hospital with a stress-induced heart attack at just 33 after he was threatened and intimidated by a violent loan shark for more than 20 years.
He said: “You wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It affected my relationship with my wife. If I wasn’t at work I was home arguing, and it affected the kids.
“The shark attacked me in front of them. Every Friday and Saturday he was sat outside my work – if I finished late he would text saying, ‘It’s payday, where are you?’ It was a living nightmare.”
These shocking testimonies come as figures reveal that the number of people using money lenders has almost doubled in the last four years.
Official figures show that 310,000 households are currently in debt to loan sharks, compared to 168,000 in 2008.
Campaigner Tony Quigley, of the Illegal Money Lending Team, said the frightening statistics had prompted his team to work with the NHS to educate frontline healthcare workers. He said: “We are now engaging with the NHS across the whole country on this issue to educate staff on how to deal with the dreadful effects of owing money to these people.
“As credit becomes even more difficult to get, more people will be tempted by loan sharks, and clearly if there is violence then individuals will go to A&E for treatment.” The first wave of training took place six weeks ago at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and
it will be repeated across Britain by the end of the year.
Staff are taught how loan sharks work and are educated about the injuries they inflict to force their victims to pay up. Workers are also given advice on how to gently ask whether someone is a loan shark victim and to know when to report injuries to police. The treatment of hand breakages and acid burns – common injuries inflicted by the sharks – will also be taught.
It is thought that thousands of people are being treated in A&Es around the country every year. Casualty nurse Becky Reid, one of 25 staff taking part in the training, said: “Loan sharks target vulnerable people who can’t borrow in the normal way. Now at least I will be equipped to help them.”
And nurse Margaret Garbett said: “Incidents appear to be increasing due to the economic climate.
“Once a patient has confided in a nurse, the patient can be given guidance on where to seek help.”
"A £500 loan led to £88k debt and seven years of hell"
Debbie Wilson suffered so much stress at the hands ofone ruthless loan shark it gave her a stroke.
She borrowed just £500 in 2000, but ended up being fleeced out of £88,000 – that’s 17,500 per cent more – and was forced to sell her home.
Debbie, 43, racked up thousands on credit cards and took out bank loans to pay back the debt, and it took its toll.
“It was the scariest time of my life,” she said. “I was threatened with physical violence all the time if I failed to pay.
“I only borrowed the money to buy the kids a computer for Christmas and it ruined our lives. It nearly killed me.”
Debbie was repeatedly threatened with having her legs broken if she didn’t pay up. And, on one terrifying occasion, the loan shark even picked her children up from school.
When she was taken to A&E after her stroke no one spotted the signs that she might loan shark victim and she was too scared to tell them.
She is now backing the NHS plan, saying it will help lift thousands out of misery. She said: “When I went to hospital I could not bring myself to tell nurses because I was so scared. I wish they’d had the training they are getting now so I could have got help earlier.”
In another horrifying case, Paul Whitehouse was treated in hospital after he was attacked with a machete and a baseball bat by a vicious loan shark. Paul, then 21, had borrowed £800 from an illegal lender who then claimed he owed him £2,000 in interest charges.
After getting behind with repayments, he was kidnapped by the loan shark and his son. During the ordeal, they slashed his face with a machete and threatened to sever his ear.
After recovering in hospital he went to the Illegal Money Lending team and they advised him to go to the police.
It resulted in the lender and his son being jailed. Paul, from Birmingham, said: “I hope it will give other victims the strength to come forward.”