Agoraphobic lender escapes trial
An agoraphobic who made so much in benefits he ran an illegal loans business has escaped trial because he is scared to leave his house.
Colin Watson, 62, set himself up as a money lender using £86,000 paid to him by the taxpayer over six years.
He began lending spare cash to friends because he could not bear to leave his Middlesbrough home to spend it.
He has been cleared of all four charges against him by Judge Peter Fox at Teesside Crown Court.
Prosecutors abandoned their case as they could find no practical way to hold a trial.
Watson, of Ripley Court, Brambles Farm, denied any wrongdoing but has never entered pleas or appeared in court. He faced two counts of lending money without a consumer credit licence, one of operating a money lending business without a licence and one of concealing criminal property, between January 2007 and August 2009.
Prosecutor Brian Russell told the court the case raised questions about the UK benefits system. At a previous hearing, he said: "He accepts that he does lend money.
"The fact is, he receives an extraordinary amount of public money as a result of his various conditions - benefits. They've been checked and checked and checked. He receives this money legitimately. But it's far in excess of his physical needs because he never gets out.
"That's obviously why he has the money to lend. This case may raise questions about the way this country delivers its benefits system."
Watson earned £1,200 a month in benefits including income support and disability living allowance, but had monthly outgoings of £350. Police said just one person was charged interest.