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Flynn turns investigative glare to sub-primers

THE private investigator commended for his role in unearthing garda corruption in Donegal has turned on sub-prime lenders widely blamed for causing misery to thousands of borrowers with draconian interest rates and penalties.

Billy Flynn, the chain-smoking Meath-based investigator, has launched the inquiry on behalf of scores of distressed and dispossessed borrowers whom he claims to represent in his practice which specialises in insolvency.

The investigation will focus on whether the lending criteria used by some sub-prime operators breached Irish banking rules. The ever-litigious Flynn fired his first salvo last month, demanding a list of all licences granted to sub-prime lenders in the past seven years from the Financial Regulator, threatening to go to the High Court if they are not produced.

Sub-prime lenders, which only came under the scope of the Financial Regulator in 2008, have been widely criticised by High Court judges and consumer watchdogs for lending to people who clearly could not afford the repayments, and for the punitive penalties applied when repayments are missed.

In a letter to the Financial Regulator last month, Flynn wrote: "I am concerned that the present Irish Government are (sic) oblivious to the suffering and distress of approx. 2,000 Irish families who have been sued by sub-prime lenders in recent years and currently and where the Financial Regulator was negligent, reckless and irresponsible in granting these sub-prime lenders licences to trade."

He continued: "Additionally, I have been contacted by customers whom I acknowledge in some cases were irresponsible themselves in signing contractual agreements for 40-year sub-prime mortgages which would complete when they were aged in their late 70s, early 80s.

"I act for clients who had the misfortune of borrowing from sub-prime lenders and where I acknowledge in some cases that the borrowing was irresponsible on behalf of my clients, their customers, but where the lending was further irresponsible and reckless on behalf of the sub-prime lenders and where, in some instances, my clients, their customers [have had or are having their] homes repossessed and where in some cases, clients/customers are suicidal . . ."

Flynn's chequered history as a private detective began 25 years ago when he took on a group of pensioners who were defrauded by the Cork businessman Finbarr Ross, resulting in a book about the affair.

He was hired by the McBrearty family in Co Donegal in 1997 who claimed they and their extended family had been framed by local gardai.

It was Flynn who produced the evidence that extortionate calls were made from the home of a garda, the first thread that unravelled an extraordinary web of corruption. The Morris Tribunal later credited his efforts.

Sunday Independent