There can be no denying that true crime documentaries have found a home on streaming giant Netflix in the last two years – and their latest release ‘The Puppet Master, Hunting the Ultimate Conman’ looks like to kick off the new year with a bang.
Netflix’s latest true crime edition focuses on conman Robert Hendy-Freegard, who became famous after using a fake identify as an MI5 officer in order to trick people into handing over their lives and their hard earned cash.
The brand new series follows the life and shocking revelations of Hendy-Freegard, 51, a former car salesman that had taken it upon himself to impersonate an MI5 agent on a regular basis in order to grant him access to the lives – and wallets – of numerous unsuspecting members of the public.
His harrowing tale of conmanship – which lasts over a decade – is documented across three episodes exclusively on Netflix, with each chapter of the story lasting between 30 and 59 minutes.
With a story so bizarre and fascinating, the Derbyshireman tale has even been picked up by the Hollywood hierarchy, with a blockbuster film in the pipeline starring James Norton as Hendy-Freegard.
Who is Robert Hendy-Freegard and what did he do?
Born in Dronfield, Derbyshire in 1971, Hendy-Freegard was a barman at The Swan pub in Shropshire in the early 90s and latterly a car salesman, who would go on to become one of the biggest and most shocking conmen in British history.
Luring in his victims in via social situations – often meeting them at the bar or as part of a car sale – he would ‘seduce’ strangers, mainly women, in order to gaining the confidence of the individuals, before later confiding to them that his ‘real’ role was as an MI5 agent performing undercover, or Special Branch or Scotland Yard working against the IRA.
His first victim, John Atkinson, was a student at Harper Adams Agricultural College and, over a short period of time, was convinced by Hendy-Freegard that he was an undercover MI5 agent, who had been given the task of spying on the school due to its potential connection to the IRA.
However, his crimes escalated when Atkinson was told his roommate at the college was a potential IRA suspect, their cover was blown and that he had to convince his other two roommates – Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy – to leave alongside himself and Freegard.
This situation would spark a harrowing tale of events that saw the two women pulled into the MI5 lie, with Smith in particular being forced to move home, disguise herself with various haircuts and dye so she wasn't recognised before she eventually forced to take cover, confined to safe houses.
Maria Hendy meanwhile would become the conman’s girlfriend for over nine years, having two children with him in the process.
Shockingly, with the trio still convinced he was an MI5 agent he conned them out of hundreds of thousands of pounds as he "followed MI5 instructions". The women he had seduced were also coaxed into cutting off contact with friends and family, while he would force them to do "loyalty tests" convincing them to live alone in poor conditions.
Eventually in 2002, Atkinson came to his sense and realised he had been duped. Feeling guilt at including the two women into the lie, he contacted police and confessed to Sarah Smith’s father Peter, who had already began his own private investigation into the strange behaviour of his daughter.
While the police did take action when Sarah’s father had first called the alarm, with Atkinson’s confession, the began to investigate Hendy-Freegard.
At this point, he had been investigated by the Scotland Yard Fraud Squad's Bob Brandon who had been tipped off by another women who claimed she had been engaged to Hendy-Freeman and had been scammed out of £30,000.
With further investigation, it became clear that Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy were only the start of Freegard's scamming, with the 51-year-old using the various women’s money to fund an extravagant lifestyle which saw him take in holiday around Europe and shockingly get engaged to a American woman by the name of Kim Adams.
He was finally caught when the mother of Kim Adams offered to fly to the UK in order to hand over even more money. On arrival at Heathrow airport, he was arrested by police and Kim Adams was reunited with her parents.
Freegard went to trial shortly after for the kidnap, assault and theft charges. The overwhelming evidence against him saw him placed before bars with a life sentence in September 2005, though he appealed his conviction successfully in 2009.
He was let out of jail in May 2009 following his successful appeal which claimed Smith and Hendy were not kidnapped and shortly afterwards met a mother-of-two by the name of Sandra Clifton.
Where is Sandra Clifton now?
Shockingly, the tale of lies and deceit did not cease following the conman’s release.
Clifton’s children Jake and Sophie felt forced to leave the home after the newly-coined ‘David’ had began a bizarre way of ‘disciplining’ the children.
He told their birth father, Mark, that Jake was hiding his sexuality before locking him out the house, while Sophie was told to stop speaking with her father, hand ‘David’ her savings account and told she had to pay him £300 a month rent to continue living in the family home.
The behaviour forced both the children to move out, with the pair moving in with their father Mark.
However, Sandra Clifton remained with the disgraced conman, herself leaving the family home in 2014 with Freegard – or David as he was now known.
She was practically missing for a whole year, before police traced her whereabouts, where they informed her of Freegard’s true identify. However, Clifford claimed she already knew and wanted to remain stay with him.
Their current location remains unknown.