A Norfolk woman who was involved in a ‘loan shark’ business with her sister-in-law which leant more than £100,000 to nearly 70 “vulnerable” people, had £44, 329 seized from her home, including £23,000 hidden in a concealed safe under a carpet in the floor, a court has heard.

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Marie Bailey, 43, of Fox’s Lane, West Lynn was said to be at the “heart” of the enterprise which saw loans totalling £109,496 - ranging from £100 to £11,000 - given to a total of 67 customers.

Marie and her sister-in-law Michelle Bailey, 45, of Thurlin Road, King’s Lynn, previously admitted being involved in a money-lending business which did not have a consumer credit licence between July 2008 and November 2009.

Both appeared at Norwich Crown Court to be sentenced in relation to the offence, with Marie Bailey being jailed for eight months.

She was also ordered to pay back £75,000 of her ill-gotten gains within three months or face two years imprisonment in default if she did not pay under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

Michelle was given a five-month sentence, suspended for two years and ordered to undertake 12 months supervision as well as a women’s emotional well being specified activity programme.

Sentencing the sisters-in-law yesterday, Judge Stephen Holt said: “It’s well known that people like you, sometimes referred to as loan sharks, cause real misery to the people you loan money to and there are occasions when loan sharks have used psychological pressure and even physical pressure on the people they loan money to.”

Although Judge Holt conceded there was no evidence of physical violence or coercion being used in this case, he said they were to be sentenced for what was a “very substantial business”.

He said this sort of criminal activity “can result in real hardship” and preys on the “very vulnerable” members of society.

Simon Mortimer, prosecuting, said loan records seized by police and trading standards officers following raids at the defendants’ addresses on November 11 2009 demonstrated it was a “substantial and well organised enterprise which had the capacity to obtain and provide large amounts of cash”.

The raid at Marie Bailey’s house resulted in a total of £44,329 being seized with cash found hidden in two safes including one which was concealed under a carpet in the floor containing £23,000 in different denominations.

No cash was found in the raid at Michelle Bailey’s house, but a loan book was found.

Mr Mortimer said customers would pay back half of what they borrowed, so if they were loaned £100 would pay back £150 with repayments broken down into weekly amounts, like £25, depending on the size of the loan. Any weekly repayments which were missed would be added to the amount to be paid back in addition to the weekly payment.

Mr Mortimer said: “Money lending is a highly regulated industry and our purpose of requiring people to be licensed is to ensure that they comply with stringent rules which are designed to protect the often vulnerable customers from abuse.

He added: “The advantage of not being licensed is that you are able to run your business in whatever way you choose and no one is the wiser. In this case the prosecution contend that the Baileys’ operated in the shadows of the economy to their own financial and organisational advantage.”

The court heard the father of one of the sisters-in-law was, until his death in 2006, unlawfully engaged in the activities of a consumer credit business which was carried on by other family members after his death.

Joseph Giret QC mitigating for Marie Bailey, said his client has had these proceedings “hanging over” her for some time, said the “business enterprise” was not one of her making and added there was no “coercion” involved.

William Carter, for Michelle Bailey, said she played a lesser role, had admitted her guilt at the earliest opportunity available to her and was responsible for her six-year-old daughter.

Speaking after the case, Tony Quigley, head of England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “I think it sends a clear message that if you’re caught committing loan sharking activities then you will go to prison.

“This sort of activity is not a community service, it’s actually preying on some of the most vulnerable members of the community.”

He added: “This was a business and it was a business on the backs of those that could least afford it.”

Following the case, Nigel Dixon, cabinet member for community protection at Norfolk County Council, issued a warning to those thinking of turning to illegal money lenders.

He said: “In the current economic climate more people are turning to illegal money lenders in a bid to ease their problems, but it only makes things worse.

“Victims are not only charged extortionate rates of interest but often face violence, intimidation or blackmail if they fall behind with their payments.

“Our aim is to protect people and communities whose lives are turned upside down by these criminals, so I am delighted, that together with the Illegal Money Lending Team, we have helped to rid another Norfolk community of these unscrupulous predators.”

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