Crimes of Robert Hendy-Freegard highlighted in new Netflix documentary

Exposing ‘the Puppet Master’: How Robert Hendy-Freegard made £1 million by masquerading as MI5 agent – as his girlfriend’s children tell Netflix she cut off contact EIGHT years ago and they fear she’s his latest victim

  • Robert Hendy-Freegard, 51, from Derbyshire, masqueraded as an MI5 agent
  • The car salesman swindled thousands of pounds out of his victims 
  • He even fooled several people to go underground for fear of IRA assassination 
  • Victims gave him £1 million which he spent living out his James Bond fantasy 
  • In June 2005, Robert was convicted of ten counts of theft, eight of procuring money by deception and two of kidnapping 
  • Two years later he was cleared of two counts of kidnap on a legal technicality to the outrage of his victims 
  • Life sentence was revoked but Robert still served nine years for other offences

The crimes of British conman Robert Hendy-Freegard who made £1 million by masquerading as an MI5 agent are to be highlighted in a new documentary. 

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, which will be released on Netflix tomorrow, will look at how the car salesman convinced a series of highly respectable victims he was an undercover spy and they were IRA targets because they knew him.

Several of his victims lived in hiding for years on end. All of them ended up giving him money – £1million he spent living out his James Bond fantasy of fast cars, luxury holidays and expensive clothes.  

Hendy-Freegard, who was dubbed ‘the puppet master’, forced his victims to take on bizarre ‘tests’, including one who had to survive on rations of one Mars Bar per week, another who walked 110 miles for a meeting with a non-existent ‘MI5 contact’, and a third who had to live for week in a motorway service station on just £10.

In June 2005, Hendy-Freegard of Blyth, Nottinghamshire was convicted of ten counts of theft, eight of procuring money by deception and two of kidnapping. 

Two years later, he was cleared of two counts of kidnap on a legal technicality to the outrage of his victims. His life sentence was revoked but Robert still served nine years for the other offences.

Meanwhile Jake Clifton, 25, and his sister Sophie, 28, appear in the new series as they describe how they became estranged from their mother Sandra, 49, after she began dating Hendy-Freegard – and how they believe he is coercively controlling her. 

The crimes of British conman Robert Hendy-Freegard who made £1 million by masquerading as an MI5 agent are to be highlighted in a new documentary

The conman – whose motto was ‘lies have to be big to be convincing’ – first struck in Newport, Shropshire, where wealthy farmer’s son John Atkinson and his then-girlfriend Sarah Smith fell under his spell. 

First, he told John that he was an MI5 undercover agent who was investigating an IRA cell in the college. 

He forced him to let himself be beaten up to prove his loyalty and to show that he was ‘hard enough’. 

He also convinced him to behave in a bizarre manner in college to prove his loyalty and to alienate him from friends. 

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, which will be released on Netflix tomorrow, will look at how the car salesman convinced a series of highly respectable victims he was an undercover MI5 agent and they were IRA targets because they knew him (pictured with one of his victims) 

Then, in April 1993, Hendy-Freegard suddenly announced his MI5 ‘cover was blown’ and both of them had to go undercover. 

He told Sarah and her friend Maria Hendy that John had cancer and convinced them to accompany them in a ‘farewell tour’ all over England.

All three went ‘on the run’, carrying out bizarre ‘missions’ across the country before they moved into a rented ‘safe house’ in Sheffield.

He told them to sever all contact with their families because they were in danger just through being associated with him.  

Jake Clifton, 25, and his sister Sophie, 28, appear in the new film as they describe how they became estranged from their mother Sandra, 49, after she began dating Hendy-Freegard – and how they believe he is coercively controlling her

The crimes of Britain’s ‘Puppet Master’ who stole thousands from victims 

1993 – He first struck in Newport, Shropshire, where wealthy farmer’s son John Atkinson and his then-girlfriend Sarah Smith fell under his spell

April 1993  –  Hendy-Freegard suddenly announced his MI5 ‘cover was blown’ and both of them had to go undercover.

2000 – Hendy-Freegard stole thousands from a lawyer he met through a car dealership. He proposed and they went on holidays all over the world.

2002 – He seduced an American child psychologist with tales of how he had infiltrated a criminal network and how he had killed a criminal who had threatened to expose him  

Scotland Yard and the FBI organized a sting operation. First, the FBI bugged the phone of the American psychologist’s parents. 

June 2005 –  Blackfriars Crown Court convicted Robert Hendy-Freegard of two counts of kidnapping, 10 of theft and 8 of deception

September 2005 – He was given a life sentence. 

April 2007 – BBC reported that Hendy-Freegard had appealed against his kidnapping convictions and won. His life sentence was revoked but still served nine years for the other offences. 

2012 – He met Sandra Clifton on a dating app and moves in with her and her children

2014 – After cutting off communication with her family, the couple disappear 

2021 – Jake tried to get the house his mother inherited from her parents protected for her by putting it into trust. The two came face-to-face for the first time in seven years. She accused him of trying to steal from her in court 

Farmer John was ordered to get a job as a barman and John’s girlfriend Sarah had to work in a chip shop.

They gave their wages straight to their tormentor, leaving them virtually nothing to live on. 

The three spent five months in a Sheffield flat because Hendy-Freegard had forbidden them to go out.

Sarah became so hungry she even resorted to eating leftover chip batter.

Like all his victims, the friends were also forced to obtain money for him from their families: money Hendy-Freegard spent on living out his James Bond fantasy. 

Over time he bought himself seven BMWs as well as an £80,000 Aston Martin Volante, Rolex watches and Savile Row suits.

The group eventually split up, others took jobs – still handing most of their money to Hendy-Freegard – and Maria became his lover.

She gave birth to his two daughters.

When she eventually found out about his other affairs and confronted him, he beat her up and threatened to kill her before he told her that she could not talk to anyone for ‘security reasons’. 

As he became more confident, the would-be super-spy controlled up to five victims at a time, keeping them in various ‘safe houses’ around the country and using a mixture of charm and menace to keep them under his spell. 

Hendy-Freegard convinced John and his parents to give him £300,000. He was put into ‘training’, performing spurious jobs.

Sometimes he would have to wait for days in a certain place for a non-existent meeting.

Eventually, he told his sister that the IRA was pursuing him, and the tale began to unravel.

His crimes always began in the same way. He would meet victims on social occasions or as customers in the pub or car dealership where he was working. 

He would later reveal his ‘role’ as an undercover agent for MI5, Special Branch or Scotland Yard working against the IRA.

He would win them over, ask for money and make them do his bidding.

Then he demanded that they cut off contact with family and friends, go through ‘loyalty tests’ and live alone in poor conditions. 

All had to carry out bizarre tasks which he told them were ‘tests’ set by their supposed ‘spymasters’. 

He would claim he was going to marry his female victims, who often refused to cooperate with the police because he had warned them that police would be double agents or MI5 agents performing another ‘loyalty test’. 

Another of his victims was Elisabeth Bartholomew née Richardson, who, despite being recently married, became obsessed with him.

The conman – whose motto was ‘lies have to be big to be convincing’ – first struck in Newport, Shropshire, where wealthy farmer’s son John Atkinson and his then-girlfriend Sarah Smith fell under his spell

As he became more confident, the would-be super-spy controlled up to five victims at a time, keeping them in various ‘safe houses’ around the country and using a mixture of charm and menace to keep them under his spell

She testified at trial ‘that she would have gone anywhere to be with Robert as he was great in bed’.   

He told her to take up loans, supposedly to settle her debts following her divorce. 

Meanwhile in 2000 Hendy-Freegard met successful lawyer Caroline Cowper through the car dealership in Chiswick, West London. 

He helped her to change her car, pocketed the difference, asked for more, persuaded her to give more money for a leasing business they would run together and stole £14,000 from her building society account. 

Hendy-Freegard, who was dubbed ‘the puppet master’, forced his 10 victims to take on bizarre ‘tests’, including one who had to survive on rations of one Mars Bar per week

They became lovers and went on holidays all over the world, before becoming engaged.     

Her family intervened but when the leasing car did not materialize, he told her that the Polish Mafia had taken it.

Two years later, he seduced an American child psychologist Kimberley Adams with tales of how he had infiltrated a criminal network and how he had killed a criminal who had threatened to expose him. 

Weeks into the 14-month relationship, he proposed marriage but told Dr Adams she would have to be a spy, resign from her job in Reading and be forbidden post and contact with her family.  

He instigated loyalty tests and a change of identity.  

On 25 April 2007, the BBC reported that Robert Hendy-Freegard had appealed against his kidnapping convictions and won. His life sentence was revoked but still served nine years for the other offences

 Meanwhile he also flushed her anti-depressant pills down the toilet and sent her to live with her ‘very humble’ mother for three months in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

He also told Leslie Gardner in Newcastle that he needed money to buy off IRA killers, who had been released after the Good Friday agreement. 

She gave him £16,000 over six years. He also sold her car and again kept the money. 

In 2002 Scotland Yard and the FBI organized a sting operation. First, the FBI bugged the phone of the Kimberley’s parents.

James Norton will star as British conman Robert Hendy-Freegard in new drama Chasing Agent Freegard

 Filming for the Robert Hendy-Freegard biopic, Chasing Agent Freegard, got underway in June last year.

James Norton looked convincing in the titular role of the British car salesman, who masqueraded as an MI5 agent and swindled thousands of pounds out of his victims. 

Also starring in the biopic is Gemma Arterton, also 35, who plays the woman who helped expose Freegard’s crimes which ultimately led to his arrest – after initially falling for his charm. 

Also starring in the film are Shazad Latif (Star Trek Discovery), Marisa Abela (Industry), Edwina Findley (The Wire), and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh).

Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn are directing the script by Michael Bronner (The Mauritanian).

Deadline reports the film is based upon the article Chasing Agent Freegard by Bronner.

Night Train CEO Herbert Kloiber told the publication of the company’s first narrative feature: ‘We are incredibly excited to start our expansion into feature films with this incredible project and group of individuals. Everyone loves a compelling true crime con-artist story and I believe this one can become an instant classic.’ 

 

Her mother told Hendy-Freegard she would hand over £10,000 but only in person.

Hendy-Freegard met her in Heathrow Airport where police apprehended him. 

He denied all charges and claimed they were part of a conspiracy against him and continued this story in the subsequent trial.

On 23 June 2005, after an eight-month trial, Blackfriars Crown Court convicted Robert Hendy-Freegard for two counts of kidnapping, 10 of theft and 8 of deception. On 6 September 2005 he was given a life sentence.

On 25 April 2007, the BBC reported that Robert Hendy-Freegard had appealed against his kidnapping convictions and won. His life sentence was revoked but still served nine years for the other offences.

The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) judgment played an important role in defining the modern offence of kidnap.

Hendy-Freegard is now in a relationship with Sandra Clifton and a regular on the dog-show circuit using the name David Clifton. 

The couple met on a dating app in 2012 and Hendy-Freegard bought her a flashy car, telling her he was working in ‘advertising space.

Sandra’s relationship with her children began to break down, with Hendy-Freegard suggesting Jake, then 16, was gay and locking him out the house.

Sophie cut off communication with her brother and father, and now believes she was brainwashed by Hendy-Freegard.

Speaking to The Sunday Times magazine, she said she had an envelope titled ‘The Lies and Slander of Mr Mark Clifton’ pinned on her bedroom noticeboard for all her father’s letters telling her he loved her.  

In 2014, Sandra and Hendy-Freegard disappeared and Sophie reunited with her brother and father. 

The pair were desperate to find their mother, and researched ‘David Clifton’, discovering his real name was Hendy-Freegard.

However when police tracked down Sandra, and made her aware of who she is with, she dismissed the inquiries. 

In the seven years that have passed since Sandra vanished from family life, her parents have died and she didn’t attend their funerals.

Jake and his sister Sophie have lost all contact with their mother after she disappeared with Hendy-Freegard  – and now believe she is his latest victim 

The 25-year-old  believes his mother ‘has been trained, controlled to do whatever Freegard wants her to say and do’ (pictured together) 

Meanwhile last year Jake tried to get the house his mother inherited from her parents protected for her by putting it into trust.  

Sandra challenged the attempt and the two came face-to-face for the first time in years in court. 

She accused Jake of trying to steal from her, with the 25-year-old explaining: ‘The problem is my mum has been trained, controlled to do whatever Freegard wants her to say and do.

‘When the police found her to tell her that we wanted to hear from her and to tell her who she was with, she said, ‘I’m not bothered. I know who I am with.’ 

Hendy-Freegard has strongly denied accusations he is controlling his new partner.  

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman launches on Netflix on January 18 

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