Christopher Harvey was jailed for three years and four months at Cardiff Crown Court on the 18th December, following an investigation by the Wales Illegal Money Lending Team. Harvey had earlier pleaded guilty, on the second day of his trial, to two counts of illegal money lending, three charges of theft and four charges of fraud. Harvey, 53, of Hengoed near Caerphilly, South Wales described himself as the ‘patriarch’ of his family, and took money from eight ‘disadvantaged’ members of his extended family and their associates over a ten year period. He took control of his victims’ post office and bank cards and helped himself to more than £22,000 of their own money – giving them only small sums to live on. Harvey would then lend their own money back to his desperate victims – charging extortionate interest up to 400,000% APR.
Prosecutor Timothy Evans said: “It was deliberate and sustained abuse of vulnerable members of his own family. He acted in a truly predatory way and was seen by these people as a friend….the phrase loans shark conjures up predatory creatures taking advantage of smaller fish around them. It seems an appropriate image for those who do that – prey on victims who are naïve and vulnerable. They are seen by the people they lend to as friends, and there is a cycle of further loans, further debts, and this can be a form of psychological abuse. These victims have learning difficulties, an inability to read and write, and no understanding of financial matters. Victims may be grateful and may not understand the amount of interest mounting against them. This case involves the lengthy and systematic financial abuse by Chris Harvey of members of his family and extended family.”
In addition to the lengthy pattern of theft and unlicensed lending, Harvey fraudulently took out a series of payday loans in the name of a former girlfriend of his nephew. This was particularly traumatic for her due to her physical disabilities and learning difficulties. She was left scared and confused after being bombarded with letters from debt collectors after Harvey had taken out the loans in her name.
Sentencing Harvey, Judge Michael Fitton QC said Harvey had abused the high degree of trust his victims had in him. “You abused family and friends and you have shown yourself to be a man who seems to think that you’re somehow entitled to do it and somehow you’re superior to those who are less fortunate than you. You have an arrogant and controlling personality. You were a self-appointed bank manager and you paid your victims peanuts of the state benefits to which they were entitled. You gave them the absolute minimum you could for them to survive.”
Stephen Grey, Investigations Manager of the Wales Illegal Money Lending Team said: “This was a particularly despicable case which displayed a cold-heartedness and utter lack of respect for the victims, who were very vulnerable as they suffered from mental and physical impairments. Some victims had not eaten for days when they were contacted by the team. I’m pleased to say that in addition to this court action, the team has been working closely with the victims, giving them the help and support they deserve to ensure they can start to rebuild their lives. This is a time of year when loan sharks are particularly active, targeting people who are struggling to manage the expense of Christmas, in addition to other financial pressures. We are running an awareness campaign entitled ‘Don’t get out of your depth with loans sharks this Christmas’. We urge anyone with loan shark information to phone us in the strictest of confidence on our 24 hour hotline 0300 123 33 11.