Hampshire Search and Rescue Volunteer Wins National Short Story Competition

Ruth Taylor, Hampshire Search and Rescue Grants Officer, has won a national short story competition that warns readers of the dangers of getting involved with a loan shark.

Ruth, from Chandlers Ford, retired from a career in psychiatric nursing in 2016 and having joined Hampshire Search and Rescue the year before, was able to give more of her time to the charity. She began taking part in rescue activities and then went on to help with fundraising.

Ruth’s stories “A Misunderstanding?” and “If Only……..” are among the seven winning entries for the National Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition, run by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).

The stories have been released as part of the Stop Loan Sharks Week campaign, #SharkFreeSurfing, urging people to get advice and support if they have fallen victim to illegal money lending.

Ruth said: “In my nursing role I worked with vulnerable people who had often got in worrying situations by not having access to advice and guidance in their lives, so I wanted to highlight how easily people can be targeted by criminals. I’ve decided to donate the prize money to Hampshire Search and Rescue Service”.

The IMLT investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders while supporting those who have borrowed money from a loan shark.

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “We would like to congratulate Ruth Taylor for her winning entries for the Stop Loan Sharks Short Story Competition.

“Ruth wrote two stories, one a very timely piece set during lockdown telling a pensioner’s story and the other highlighting the importance of talking to someone if you have debt issues.

“Loan sharks appear friendly at first but quickly trap their victims into a vicious circle of spiralling debts through threats, violence and intimidation.

“We would urge anyone who is suffering at the hands of unscrupulous money lenders, or anyone who has concerns that a friend or loved one may be in danger, to contact us. Our officers and a range of support agencies are here to help, you are not alone.

A loan shark is someone who lends money without the correct permission from the Financial Conduct Authority. They rarely give paperwork, can often charge extreme amounts of interest and may intimidate or threaten people if they can’t repay.

If Only………

Written By Ruth Taylor

WARNING: This story contains explicit language.

If only I’d listened to Trevor,

my neighbour for over ten years.

I’d told him “I think I’m in trouble”,

and then promptly burst into tears!

If only I knew what a bastard

my ‘kind’ boss would turn out to be.

At first he was so understanding,

I thought that he cared about me.

If only I’d not got a job there,

but Julie my wife made me go.

“Our kids deserve more than we give them,

It’s your fault; you’re lazy you know.”  

If only I’d not become friendly

with Mark, my new boss at the yard.

“Recycling is thirsty work Matey”.

Then booze made me drop down my guard.

If only I’d kept my big mouth shut.

“It’s Julie; she says I’m no good!”

“Let’s call this loan overtime Sonny”.

He said to pay back when I could.

If only I’d known just how nasty

and vicious his threats would become.

He says my late payments will cost me.

I might get the sack. I’m so dumb!

If only I’d got it in writing.

He said I owed so much more now.

I knew that I had to tell Julie,

I tried but just didn’t know how.

If only you’d listen to me now”

said Trevor, “I know what to do.

I’ll take you folk who are experts,

They’ll listen and want to help you”

So now I’m a happier husband,

and father to kids I adore.

My problems are gradually fading,

If onlyis uttered no more!


A Misunderstanding?

Written by Ruth Taylor

‘I’m sorry John; I think there’s been a misunderstanding. That wasn’t what you said before,’ I began to feel a sort of sinking feeling in my stomach. He must have got me muddled with someone else. We were sat in my kitchen having a cup of tea.  

I’d met John when the lockdown started at the end of March. As a pensioner on my own, I was introduced to him by my neighbour Ann when I was putting out my dustbin.  Ann always looked out for me. He was middle-aged and smartly dressed.  She said John was offering to help with shopping, getting pills from the chemist and anything else. I’m a widow with only my state pension to survive on, so couldn’t buy too much at once. I suppose some people call that living hand-to-mouth. I just called it being sensible. I never understood how people could afford to bulk buy. John said he was a retired businessman. He explained that he could afford to take early retirement and once the severity of the pandemic was realised he decided to volunteer and support the local community. To be honest he was a godsend. (Ann said my son should have done his bit but she didn’t realise how, working up the local market buying and selling goods, Billy, my only child, couldn’t commit to helping me.)

‘You fail to understand your legal requirement to repay me, I may have helped you at the beginning but with this loan, we made a deal.’ John’s voice was getting louder. I wish I hadn’t invited him in. I felt myself almost physically shrinking away from him. It was strange that his face, in fact even his posture, was so intimidating, my heart was beating faster, thumping in my chest.

‘I’m really sorry John. I don’t quite understand. Could you come back in a few days to explain things to me again? I promise to get the repayments sorted by then.’  He suddenly banged his fist on the kitchen table sending actual shivers through my body. The veins on his forehead were bulging.

He’d been so kind and attentive throughout the early lockdown weeks. Billy couldn’t get round very often (I knew that was to keep me safe even though Ann said it was neglect!)  John made sure I had everything I needed. I’d often take him a cup of tea, in the front garden at first then, when the rules were relaxed; he came just inside the kitchen to sit at the table. We talked about the future, when the virus would be gone. John said he was thinking about setting up a charitable foundation for the needy in our community. That’s when I told him about my dream to rent a cottage by the sea for a few days for Billy and my three granddaughters (Billy and their mother had long since parted company). The girls were growing up fast and I rarely saw them. I had wonderful memories of staying with my grandparents near the beach. We’d go looking for driftwood in funny shapes, or find little crabs in rock pools and even swim in the sea if the weather was nice.  What adventures I used to have. The next day John had kindly managed to find a brochure with seaside cottages to rent and he’d made me realize how much they cost. Then there was the train fare. It soon became clear I’d underestimated the overall cost.  However, he’d said, there’s an easy solution. He reckoned I need about another 350 pounds.

 ‘Every day you delay will cost you!’ John’s face was getting redder by the second.  ‘It’s your responsibility to get the money. Go up the social and get one of those hardship grants. You look the part, shouldn’t be difficult.’

‘But I’ve never asked for help from the social, I’ve never been in debt before, you must be able to give me more time’, I realized my voice was getting higher and more desperate sounding. I was sure he hadn’t mentioned anything about time constraints when we first talked.   He said he would lend it to me from his pension pot and I could pay him back weekly after our holiday. He said there would have to be a bit of interest, but just at the average rate. I was so grateful. I’d rung Chrissie, my oldest granddaughter, and told her right away. I was so excited but sadly we couldn’t go on our holiday when planned (virus restrictions were reintroduced) so Billy took the cash to put in his bank. Then he couldn’t give it back to me. It had apparently immediately paid off some of his overdraft and the bank wouldn’t lend him any more money he said. 

‘So now’, John was now saying, ‘I’ll be charging you for every day you delay. You understand I can take you to court for failure to pay me back, with interest, in the period of time we agreed.’ I don’t actually remember agreeing a time but John produced a bit of paper that seemed to have my signature on it.

The mention of going to court was terrifying. I’d been twice to support Billy when his associates had accused him (wrongly as Billy had explained) of stealing from them. It was a horrible experience. I couldn’t bear the thought of bailiffs coming to my home.

John stood up suddenly, scraping his chair deliberately along the kitchen floor. ‘I’ll be back in two days and you’d better have something for me by then, or else!’

 I’ve been a terrible fool. I suppose I deserve everything that’s happening to me. I hadn’t realised he could take me to court. What am I supposed to do now?


To report a loan shark, call the 24-hour helpline on 0300 555 2222, email the team at reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or complete an online reporting form here. Live chat is available on the website 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.