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CPS convicts bogus spy

23 June 2005

Robert Hendy-Freegard was convicted today at Blackfriars Crown Court of
1 x kidnapping Sarah Smith
1 x kidnapping John Atkinson
10 x theft
5 x obtaining a money transfer by deception
3 x procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception.

It was the end of a story that started at a Shropshire agricultural college in 1993 moved from Somerset to Scotland, Leeds to London and the French Alps, and ended with a Metropolitan Police and FBI sting at Heathrow airport.

Senior Crown Prosecutor Andrew West said:

"Although the jury had to grapple with what seemed like a paperback plot, the public should be in no doubt that although Robert Hendy-Freegard's deceptions were often so slick as to beggar belief. He is an arrogant and cruel man who has scarred the lives of many of his victims and who tricked them out of thousands of pounds, years of their lives and their dignity."

Robert Hendy-Freegard stole over 1/2m from his various victims and there is little trace of it now. The eventual 24-count indictment was made up of numerous counts of financial fraud but most unusual were the kidnap charges, unlawfully and by fraud rather than false imprisonment.

"This was the challenge," said Andrew West, "The traditional idea of kidnap is one where people are physically restrained. On the surface, all of the victims could have walked away but such was his hold on them they feared for their lives if they did. In the end they had made such an investment in his fictions that there was no going back. Most would simply not believe the police were not imposters at the end."

For further information contact CPS Press Office on 020 7710 6088.

Background to start of trial:

The long road to the courtroom started in March 2003 when Andrew West first heard of Robert Hendy-Freegard (then known simply as Freegard) at a chance meeting with investigating officers DS Robert Brandon and DS Mark Simpson.

Starting with a simple small claim by Caroline Cowper against Hendy-Freegard for money owed to her for various fraudulent schemes, the chain grew bigger and bigger with first Maria Hendy then John Atkinson coming forward. The police formed an ambitious arrest strategy by April 2003. They proposed to have the mother of Kimberley Adams - an American 'victim' - fly to the UK to meet Robert Hendy-Freegard, and for them to arrest him at that meeting. At this time it was unclear where Robert Hendy-Freegard was, although it was felt that he was probably with Kimberley Adams.

A joint Met and FBI operation netted him on May 23rd 2003 at Heathrow Airport. Kimberley was safe but where were the others? The team knew that there were a number of people still missing, including Sarah Smith, who had not been in contact with her family for over a year.

With Hendy-Freegard now in custody, he still refused to tell the police of the whereabouts of any other missing people. However, Kimberley Adams had told the police he had left a briefcase in a hotel in Chambery, France, which could be crucial.

There was a real danger that the hotel would discard items from the room once it became apparent that the occupants were not paying for the room or coming back. Andrew West composed an emergency letter of request on 28th May 2003, and on 4th June DS Brandon and DS Simpson went to France under the cover of this letter. With the assistance of the French Regional Crime Squad they seized evidence from the hotel room. The briefcase contained documents belonging to Sarah Smith, Renata Kister, Elizabeth Richardson and Lesley Gardner.

So the missing victims now had a hope of being found but they had been under Hendy-Freegard's spell for so long that they no longer knew who the real police were. Renata Kister initially thought she was being tested as Robert had told her she would. However, a week later she met the officers at Kensington police station and was shown a photograph of Sarah Smith. She told DS Simpson and told him that she did recognise Sarah, and that Sarah was working for her cleaning a flat. DS Brandon went to the flat and found Sarah. Again, Sarah initially did not believe what she was being told by the officers.

Meanwhile, the police were now also aware of Elizabeth Richardson but she could not be traced. Andrew West asked those representing Hendy-Freegard that he help find Elizabeth Richardson, but he refused to help. Eventually she was found on 15th September 2003. Hendy-Freegard was finally charged with offences in relation to her kidnap in late September 2003, and this case was joined to the other case involving Sarah, John and Maria. The stage was set for the trial, which was to prove far from straightforward.