HomeHealthNetflix debuts series about one of the greatest manipulators of all time

Netflix debuts series about one of the greatest manipulators of all time

Netflix debuts series about one of the greatest manipulators of all time

A man posed as a secret agent for years. It has tricked, swindled, and coerced numerous victims—and likely continues to do so.

He is Robert Hendy Freegard.

His name is Robert Hendy-Freegard and he was known as “Puppet Master”, which we can translate as “Master of Manipulation”. This Brit, pretending to be a MI5 secret agent, entered the lives of several people, betrayed them and destroyed families. His story is now being told on Netflix through testimonies from victims and those involved in the investigation.

The Art of Deception: Hunting for the Great Impostors is a documentary series debuting on the streaming platform this Tuesday, January 18. It has three episodes and focuses on this crook who pretended to be a spy and managed to convince several people to join him, leaving everything they had behind.

Nobody can imagine what moves Robert Hendy-Freegard. But this 50-year-old Derbyshire man worked as a car salesman and bartender. In 1993 he was working at a pub called The Swan in Newport. There he met John Atkinson, a student at Harper Adams Agricultural College.

Freegard was able to convince him he was an MI5 agent monitoring the prestigious school for its IRA connections. Some time earlier, another student had been arrested by the authorities for collaborating with the armed organization. And at school there was easy access to ingredients to make bombs.

John Atkinson was a firm believer in this man and even liked the idea of ​​doing anything to help a secret agent. The plan was to be his eyes and ears at school. But for that he had to pass a series of demanding tests invented by Freegard – including even beating Atkinson to make him tougher.

This story took on greater proportions when Freegard Atkinson suggested his roommate was a member of the IRA. When their “cover” was allegedly blown, Freegard Atkinson explained that they had to flee to be safe from the IRA. And Freegard also said he had to convince his two roommates, Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy, to run away with them.

Atkinson lied to colleagues, claiming he had terminal cancer so they would agree to a road trip. It was his last wish. The result? These two young women were drawn into the same web of lies that involved Freegard as an MI5 agent. They were subjected to equally difficult tests and began to live on the run – with no one chasing them.

Sarah would be in Freegard’s ward for ten years, completely enmeshed in the complex lie he had created. She moved from Safehouse to Safehouse, dying and cutting her hair to avoid being recognized. Maria, on the other hand, eventually became the girlfriend of the “master of manipulation”. He would be physically and mentally abused for nine years. And together they had two children.

Freegard explained that they had to leave their families because they would be in danger if they kept in touch. In addition, both John Atkinson and Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy Freegard gave the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of euros, practically all the money they had.

In 2002, John Atkinson finally returned home. And he was somewhat surprised when neither MI5 nor the IRA made contact with him and his family. Feeling guilty about dragging his two former college friends into a life he now realizes was a lie, he contacted the police and Sarah’s father – who had started his own investigation into his daughter’s whereabouts find out.

The police were not involved in this case because they were both adults and apparently lived an amicable life with Freegard. But Peter Smith, Sarah’s father, didn’t give up because he believed his bizarre behavior could only be manipulated by someone.

When authorities discovered that Freegard was posing as a secret agent thanks to Atkinson’s contact, they began investigating the case. What they uncovered was an even larger network of scams and manipulated people. Freegard used the victims’ money to maintain an extravagant lifestyle across Europe. And there were other victims who crossed paths with the initial trio of students.

One of the other victims was an American named Kim Adams. Under US law, this young woman’s case could be considered a kidnapping. So the FBI got involved in the investigation and together with the British authorities they managed to stop Freegard.

In June 2005, this man was officially charged with kidnapping, assault and robbery. A few months later he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent a few years in prison but was acquitted of the most serious kidnapping crime in 2009. His lawyers were able to convince the judge that the victims could flee at any time – so it couldn’t be a kidnapping. At best, it would be compulsion.

The story doesn’t end here. When Freegard was released from prison, he quickly became involved in another possible scam – yet unproven – that resulted in him running away with a woman who suddenly abandoned his family. Freegard changed his identity. As of 2014, her whereabouts remain unknown, although the following year there were contacts between police and this woman, who allegedly said she was doing everything on her own. So there were – for the time being – no further allegations.

When the story broke, a film inspired by the case was being made. “Freegard”, as the production is called, has James Norton and Gemma Arterton as protagonists. It is currently in post-production and has no release date yet.

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