Extra Comment: Don’t swim with the sharks

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THEY are the lowest of the low. They could walk under a snake’s belly without stooping.

They are the illegal money lenders: the blight upon many, mostly working class, communities.

Like vultures, they prey on the weak, offering some end to their plight but instead plunging them into even more misery.

And with the new changes to the benefit system, they must be rubbing their hands with glee at the amount of business that will soon be coming their way.

But I wonder what sort of mentality must it take to be a money lender?

How can you go into a community smiling and offering people a way out of their misery, only to pile more on when the person, inevitably, struggles to pay the money back?

When I was a kid, neighbours would talk about “the provy”, but I don’t know if that still exists.

This was a way for ordinary people to alleviate the problems of poverty, usually for special occasions like Christmas, with a loan which, I’m told, was relatively painless to repay.

This was because they had a payment plan which stretched out over weeks and months.

Illegal money lending is quite a different beast altogether.

This was how the likes of Jimmy Boyle thrived in 60s Glasgow.

Boyle worked for a money lender in the Gorbals and he was the muscle that was sent out if repayment was not forthcoming.

This made him a feared man, not respected, within the surrounding communities.

I interviewed Jimmy Boyle back in the 90s for another newspaper, on an unrelated topic.

Because his son had had problems with heroin abuse, he was in Possilpark to donate money to one of the rehab projects within the area.

The man I met was not the gallus Gorbals hard man of 30 years previous.

In fact he was quite small, almost insignificant, with the air of a man haunted by demons of his own creation.

Quietly spoken, his eyes would dart about the room as if he was keeping a watch out for a surprise attack.

Glasgow is not a happy place for Jimmy Boyle any more: there are still families in the southside living with the net result of his, and his boss’s, reign of terror.

But any sympathy I felt for Boyle’s present state was tempered with the memories of those he terrorised.

The last thing our communities need is another crop of Boyle wannabes sprouting up like so many unwanted weeds.

No community needs nor deserves that.

Which is why I whole-heartedly support this move by East Renfrewshire council — and other authorities — to crack down on loan sharks.

The local authority realises that there may be a real concern that people could turn to illegal money lenders, and are offering to help.

Its money advice staff are more than happy to meet with residents, either at its offices or through a home visit, if mobility is an issue.

For those living in the south of the city, contact Glasgow city council for information on how they can help.

End the misery before it starts, as this is a spiral you don’t want to enter.