Fight against loan sharks continues as Chorley couple punished over illegal lending business

McCullagh's ill gotten gains
McCullagh's ill gotten gains

Authorities have vowed to continue rooting out illegal money lenders in Lancashire’s communities as a loan shark who charged vulnerable borrowers £50 interest for every £100 borrowed begins a 15 month jail term.

John McCullagh, 53, shouted at one victim that he would “send the big boys around’ if she did not pay, and was aggressive to a grieving woman who could not afford to repay him because she had to purchase flowers for her aunt’s funeral.

A third victim, who suffered depression, used to hide in his bedroom to avoid McCullagh.

It’s the third similar prosecution in central Lancashire in 18 months.

Judge Simon Newell, sitting at Preston Crown Court, said: “The people who you lent money to were financially vulnerable and the interest rates you charged were high.

“There were substantial profits made from this business and you had the benefits of these profits through various bank accounts.

“You knew you needed a licence due to your previous employment with a legitimate loan company and had been told explicitly so by the authorities in 2013.”

McCullagh admitted illegal money lending and money laundering, while partner, Karen Roberts, 58, received nine months suspended for 18 months and 160 hours unpaid work after she was found guilty of laundering cash.

Their home in Isleworth Drive, Chorley, was raided on August 10 last year by the Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) who found documents, electronic and storage devices and over £4,000 in cash and arrested McCullagh.

The following day a £50,000 transfer labelled “investing into business with Roberts” was made to Roberts’ account.

Prosecuting, Jonathan Barker told the court McCullagh advertised in leaflets distributed across the community, and would visit customers’ home addresses to collect repayments or instruct them to pay money into his accounts.

Between July 2008 and August 2016, McCullagh’s illegal lending business issued around 4,000 loans amounting to around £870,000, to more than 600 people in Chorley, Coppull and Leyland.

His records indicated he received more than £1.1m in repayments and at the time of his arrest had £230,000 outstanding on loans for which interest was payable.

Roberts denied knowing a £50,000 payment into her account the day after his arrest was ill gotten gains, but was found guilty of money laundering.

Born in Bolton, she grew up in Adlington and attended school in Chorley.

She left at 16 and got an admin job at the Pen Society, an adult contact magazine, and has worked there for 41 years.

At 17 she met Lionel Roberts, who worked at Leyland Motors and they wed in 1983 when she was 24.

The couple lived in Manor Way, Coppull, and had two sons. When the couple separated, Lionel moved to Cheshire, and Karen met John McCullagh through mutual friends on a night out.

McCullagh, divorced with one son, lived in a one bedroomed apartment in Buckshaw Village, but had a portfolio of properties as an investment.

As their relationship flourished, the couple enjoyed breaks in Benidorm and his buy-to-let properties were transferred into her name in 2007.

Tony Quigley, head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “Loan sharking will not be tolerated in Lancashire and we will continue to work with Lancashire County Council and Lancashire Constabulary to combat this under-reported crime.

“Loan sharks are criminals who prey on vulnerable people, exploiting them for their own financial gain.”

Loan sharks appear friendly at first but quickly trap borrowers into spiralling debt.

As the debts can’t legally be enforced many lenders resort to extreme and callous methods to enforce repayment.

To report a loan shark:

Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 or text 078600 22116

Visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk or e-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk