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October 20, 2004

Banks attacked over suicide of man, 21, who owed £15,000

From: Independent, UK - Oct 20, 2004

By Graham Hiscott

20 October 2004

The human cost of debt was highlighted yesterday by the case of a 21-year-old man who died after running up debts of £15,000 to banks.

Scott Smith, who was profoundly deaf, is thought to have committed suicide after running up debts on four credit cards and a personal loan. Debt collectors for one of the banks - Halifax - had continued to send demanding letters despite his death in August.

The case of Mr Scott, from Catfield, Norfolk, is the latest involving people who have found themselves owing thousands of pounds to banks. The death was revealed at a hearing of MPs investigating credit-card charges and marketing.

Bank executives giving evidence were criticised for "hiding" important details such as charges in small print and failing to share information that could prevent someone becoming burdened with debt.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, told the hearing about the death of his constituent. "A 21-year-old lad took his own life when he was £15,000 in debt," he said. "His father feels convinced that the size of the debt was part of the pressure he was under and he feels passionately about the need to lend responsibly.

"In this case he had been in all sorts of problems with a Halifax credit card and was then given a personal loan by the Halifax."

James Crosby, the chief executive of the Halifax parent company, HBOS, was giving evidence at the hearing. Referring to the case, he said: "It is far from what we would expect. We will look at our performance in the wider area."

An inquest into Mr Scott's death has been opened and adjourned. His father, Steve, 56, said Scott, who had various jobs, had left Norfolk for a new life in Leeds but later returned.

"He seemed OK for a while," Mr Smith told the Norwich Evening News soon after his son's death. "Then he got in touch and said he wanted to come back. We thought he was homesick or something, just like any 21-year-old might be. Now he's dead and we can't find an answer to it."

Claire Whyley, the deputy director of policy at the National Consumer Council, said: "Today's hearing demonstrates that the credit industry has a long way to go before the credit market works in the best interests of consumers. Full information sharing between lenders is vital so borrowers already overburdened with debt don't get tipped over the edge."

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