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How on earth did a car salesman manage to convince multiple people that they were being targeted by the IRA and that he should be the one to “hold” their money?
Well, Robert Hendy-Freegard , the conman at the heart of “The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman" capitalized on the very real fear of the IRA among the British at the time. The three-part docuseries about his scam dropped Monday on Netflix.
The series focuses on how British car salesman Hendy-Freegard managed to con at least seven women and one man out of nearly a million pounds. He tricked the victims into trusting him by posing as a secret agent with MI5, the United Kingdom’s secret intelligence service. He claimed he was sent to protect them from the IRA.
His bizarre scheme involved manipulating his targets into completing tests of loyalty. One of his victims, for example, gave him thousands of pounds while h he told her to sleep on park benches to prove her loyalty, the BBC reported in 2007. He also convinced people into going into hiding, pushing them to give him their funds so he could hide them from the IRA.
Hendy-Freegard claimed that part of his job as MI5 agent was to track down IRA extremists, United Kingdom’s Metro reports. And he told his victims that such extremists were after them.
The conman was operating at a time when the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, was particularly violent. In 1992 alone, they planted more than 50 bombs. Another of his victims, a student named John Atkinson gave Hendy-Freegard £300,000 in the 1980. Interviewed for the series, Atkinson explains that he was convinced he had become a target of the IRA. The conman tricked Atkinson and his two friends, Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy, to go on the run with him, claiming that they were all in grave danger. He conned them into paying for a so-called witness protection program for the next ten years.
The IRA had terrorized Europe for more than thirty years beginning in 1969 during a duration of time referred to as “The Troubles." While the IRA was originally formed to fight for independence in the early 1900s, by 1969 they split into two factions: officials who sought independence by peace and the provisionals who did so through violence. Both wanted the British to withdraw from Northern Ireland. An estimated 1,800 died in the ensuing terrorist acts of violence, including at least 600 civilians. Formal peace talks did not begin until 1997.
Hendy-Freegard was convicted in 2005 on two counts of kidnapping, 10 counts of theft and eight counts of deception. While he was originally sentenced to life behind bars, he appealed the kidnapping convictions in 2007 and won. He has apparently been released, but the filmmakers of the Netflix series do not know his current whereabouts.
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