A "GREEDY" loan shark who pocketed £340,000 in six years running an illegal money lending operation from his Dudley home has been spared time behind bars.

John Guest set up his own crooked business after working for over 40 years in the loan industry and he treated his victims as "friends."

A man of previous good character he built up a relationship with clients and they would contact him when they needed money because they trusted him, said Mr Stephen Hamblett defending.

He said money lending was the only work Guest had ever known as he stressed he never used the intimidation tactics that were common in other loan shark cases.

"There is no evidence of the horrible and aggravating features that apply to similar cases," Mr Hamblett told Wolverhampton Crown Court.

Judge Dean Kershaw told 62 year old Guest it was serious and deliberate offending committed outside the strict regulations applied to the money lending industry adding, "You knew exactly what you were doing."

The Judge said it was a business where people suffering from financial hardship were taken advantage of and they became "trapped in a cycle of debt."

Guest, he went on, had a large customer base and 42 loan books were found at his home in Redwood Avenue by investigators who also recovered over £18,000 in cash.

He said Guest had been a legitimate money lender for many years when he held a license but for some reason he had not applied for the necessary paperwork for his own operation which would have provided protection for customers.

A letter sent to the court had described Guest as greedy and the Judge said, "That is what I think you were."

But he ruled he was just able to avoid sending Guest straight to prison because there had been no bullying of clients and he had not used information from his previous work as a money lender to exploit the people who came to his door for money.

Guest admitted two charges of unlawful money lending and two charges involving money laundering and he was given a 22 month jail term suspended for 18 months.

The Judge said Guest would now be facing a Proceeds of Crime Hearing in the near future. "What you have gained will be taken from you."

Guest had expressed genuine remorse for his actions, he was ashamed of his crimes and he knew he had badly let down his family, said the Judge.

Mr Joseph Millington prosecuting said it was accepted Guest had not made substantial demands to customers for money and there was no evidence of further illegal collections after the investigation was launched into his activities.

He told the court Guest had up to fifty customers looking to borrow money and the prosecution were now seeking to get back in full the £340,000 it was accepted he had made from the racket.

Guest was further ordered to carry out 80 hours unpaid work in the community and all other orders involving costs would be resolved at his Proceeds of Crime Hearing.