The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman (2022): Season 1, Episode 3 - Setting the Trap - full transcript

As Robert continues to exploit and ruin lives, the authorities set a trap in London. Meanwhile, in the present, Sandra's children hold out hope.

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It's like a needle in a haystack.

You hope you will see Sarah again,
but you don't know.

She's out there somewhere.

The only person in the world
that knew where I was, was Rob.

I had no friends,
no family, no money, no identity.

You're left just following instructions.

You have no free will.

Rob told me
there was still a threat out there,

and he was now gonna take me
to this MI5 safe house,

but I wasn't allowed to see where it was.

I was told that I was gonna have to stay
in the bathroom…



and that I wasn't allowed to make a sound,
and he was gonna lock me in there.

It had small windows high up.

It had just about enough space
to lie down on the floor beside the bath.

It was a prison.

Everything's being ripped away
layer by layer.

I had burned every bridge
with everybody that I love.

If I'd had any way of committing suicide,
I probably would have at that point.

Imagine the most hunger
that you've ever felt and multiply it.

And then, one day,
Rob turned up to the bathroom.

He asked me
if I'd like to be his girlfriend.

Basically, he wanted sex.

Right, if you've been deprived of food,

and freedom,

and any free will,



the possibility, just a glimmer of hope
that you might get treated better

is worth a punt.

Nothing to lose.

Any normal person would have a footprint.

They'd go to a doctor or a dentist.

They'd have a job,
an income, bank accounts.

Sarah had nothing.
No trace of where she might be.

She had no footprint at all.

At the same time, Kim Adams, a US citizen,
was planning to marry Robert Freegard.

And then she suddenly cut ties
with her friends,

and no one knew where Kim was.

I came up with a plan to start recording
the telephone conversations

between Freegard, Kim, and her parents.

At first, Freegard wasn't responding
to any of their calls.

But then, he picked up.

Robert Freegard told them
that he was a security agent for MI5,

and he was planning
to take Kim under his wing

and train her to be a spy as well.

Kim was enrolled in spy school.

Kim didn't just fail the test once.
She failed it twice.

So, at this point, Freegard sets the hook.

It's what he's been leading up to.

That is just pure craziness,

that Freegard's lies are so completely

off the grid

that they're almost believable.

Freegard claims that he's paying
the lion's share of Kim's spy school.

And he's using that as leverage
to get Kim's parents to pay their part.

So, this is where
I give Kim's parents direction

not to give him money.

Freegard became more and more desperate,

and so his desperation
is voiced through Kim.

Things become
a little bit more concerning.

Kim is in distress.

There were little flaws
in her conversation.

Some of her remarks seemed…

scripted.

And then the story flip-flops.

Now she needed money for car repairs,

and she tells her mother

the service mechanic
had taken her passport.

The situation is becoming more volatile
for her, more dangerous.

The picture that was emerging
from the wiretaps

was that Freegard and Kim
were somewhere in Europe.

And also, Sarah was still missing.

She needed to be found.

Freegard had been circulated
as being wanted.

But somehow, he was traveling
from country to country undetected.

It could be that he had
false documentation that he was showing.

We didn't know.

We were monitoring bank accounts,

and we could see
where money was being spent.

In Germany, and Austria,
and France, and the UK.

Freegard and Kim were going
from city to city, country to country,

staying at each place
for only a night or two.

It was obvious that Freegard
wanted to keep her moving

so that law enforcement
couldn't catch up to them.

If he was in one town, he wouldn't
withdraw cash from his bank account.

He'd drive to another town.

They would use aliases.

They wouldn't register
under their true names.

We couldn't find Kim and Freegard,
so it was time to lure them to us.

So we come up with a plan
to a face-to-face meeting

on the premise
of being handed over $10,000.

But it was a trap.

Kim's mother, Ann, would travel to London
and meet Freegard and Kim at the airport,

and the plan was for us to arrest Freegard
and rescue Kim.

The way we were gonna find Sarah
was to find Freegard himself.

And who knows how many other victims.

The shark took the bait,

and they agreed to return to London.

"Can I give you a hug?"

Totally makes my skin crawl.

At that moment,
Freegard throws a curveball.

This was alarming.

If a mutual friend shows up,
then where is Kim?

Is she safe?

But at that point,
we had committed to this plan,

and we had to see it through.

Kim's mother flew over to London.

She was understandably nervous.

But we had every confidence
that she would be able to pull this off.

On the day of the operation,
there was basically two teams deployed.

I was in a patrol vehicle
with the head of the surveillance team.

I was in a car. I could only listen
to everything on the radio.

The Met Police had
about a dozen police officers

following Kim's mother
through the terminal.

There were
other police officers in cars.

Another dozen or so
police officers in plain clothes

keeping an eye on the Starbucks

where Freegard
was supposed to meet Kim's mother.

The plan was that Kim's mother
would walk through into the arrivals hall,

and Kim and Freegard
would be there to greet them.

At that point,
the arrest team would move in

and arrest Freegard and recover Kim.

But the plan went a little…

wonky.

Kim's mum
had waited in the baggage area.

I heard on the radio
that Ann was walking through the terminal

with other passengers
that had just arrived from Phoenix.

Police officers were at the Starbucks
trying to pinpoint Freegard.

He might have been hiding,

watching to see if Ann was with anyone
like law enforcement.

All the other passengers
who'd arrived on that flight

were now going through the arrivals hall.

There was no sign of any Freegard,

and I had to make a decision
whether I'd send her through.

And the answer was yes.

Everybody was in place.
Everybody was ready.

It had to carry on.

Ann is getting closer and closer
to the Starbucks,

and no Freegard.

We were really concerned
that he wasn't going to come.

One of the surveillance team
radioed to say

that there was a guy
acting really strangely and suspiciously

in the arrivals hall.

Looking at reflections in shop windows.

He was clearly feeling vulnerable.

The guy acting strangely
was identified as Freegard.

We do see Freegard,
but it's obvious that Kim's not with him.

Where is Kim?

Then Kim's mother and Freegard meet.

And unexpectedly,

Kim's mother decides
to excuse herself from Freegard.

This was totally off script.

She was walking towards the bathroom.

Did she lose her nerve?

We just didn't know.

Kim's mom called me from the toilet.

She was clearly distressed.

She was not doing
what she had been briefed to do.

The situation was getting too much
for her, really.

Freegard had told her
that Kim was in the car park

on the upper deck, waiting in the car.

I didn't know
whether that was true or not,

but we'd put in months of planning,

and here we had Kim's mom
going off script.

The longer
that Kim's mom is out of sight,

he could get increasingly suspicious.

He could flee.

I calmed her down.
I told her, "Just go with Freegard."

Then Kim's mother does emerge
from the bathroom and joins Freegard.

They left the airport terminal,

and they headed
straight towards the car park.

Keep following at a safe distance.

But we still weren't sure
if Kim was actually there.

I moved my arrest team into the car park.

Hold your positions now.
Hold your positions now.

The surveillance team said that there was
a woman in a vehicle, waiting.

I heard Bob yell into his walkie-talkie…

Go, go, go!

Freegard was put into handcuffs.

And Kim was helped out of the car
by another officer.

This is the first time I've ever seen
Kim Adams in all of these weeks,

and she seemed upset.

She seemed confused.

I'm not even sure she knew who we were.
But she did see her mother.

As Freegard is being led away,

he turns around and calls out to Kim,
"I love you."

After months of investigation
and planning, he was finally with us.

I prepared for the interview for days.

I knew all the evidence against him.

Freegard thought
by answering no questions,

we'd release him, and he'd be out on bail.

The police asked,
"What happened to Sarah Smith,

who's been gone for ten years?"

He refused to tell us
where Sarah was.

When searched at the station,

Freegard was found in possession
of a scrap of paper

with a telephone number named Ronnie,

and there was also a set of keys
from the Buffalo Hotel in the French Alps.

That meant something to me,

because I knew
there'd been some telephone calls

from that hotel
that had been traced by the FBI.

We were on our way to the French Alps.

The room was packed.

Designer men's shoes.

Expensive watches.

And they also find a locked suitcase.

And in the locked suitcase,

Scotland Yard finds passports, letters,

credit cards, driver's license
belonging to other women.

There was a whole treasure trove
of evidence.

The instinct was
that there are other women out there

that maybe need to be saved,
maybe need to be rescued.

Amongst the papers was documentation
relating to a Renata Kister.

We put two and two together,

and we decided
that Renata was probably Ronnie…

who was on the scrap of paper
with the telephone number.

One day,
I got a call from Scotland Yard.

Bob has asked me,
do I know a man called Rob Freegard?

My heart was pumping.

I have been instructed by Robert,

if anyone contacts me
and mentions his name,

I should deny any contact.

We tried to encourage her to come
into the station to talk to us,

but she was really, really reluctant.

He said, "How do you explain
that we've got your documents,

we've got your passport, ID?"

She agreed to come in.

At the police station,
I explained that I met Robert Freegard

in a car showroom in the year 2000.

He persuaded me to buy a brand-new car.

Robert told me
that his real job is being a spy.

Over three years,
I have lost about £20,000 to him,

which Rob promised to pay me back,
but he just disappeared.

And then, one day,
the phone rings, and it's Rob,

and he said he had this friend,

and she needs to stay somewhere safe.

He managed to persuade me
that she'll be a good help to me.

So, I agreed for this lady
to come and live with me.

Renata told us that Freegard had brought
a woman to her house.

And that woman
was now working for her as a cleaner.

She said her name was Carrie.

When Carrie turned up,
I didn't know anything about her.

She didn't have ID.

If she saw me having a camera,
she would be just avoiding a picture.

It was just odd.

But I did manage
to take this one picture of her.

When Renata showed us
the photograph of Carrie,

you could kind of see a face,
but not completely clearly.

But the color of the girl,
the height, the age,

it all looked like
it could have been Sarah.

But we weren't 100% sure it was.

You never give up.

And you wait, hope for a lead,

but you never give up.

We needed to speak to Carrie.

We suspected
that she wouldn't answer the door,

so we had Renata telephone her.

And I said,
"Hi, Carrie. I locked myself out."

"Can you please open the door
and give me the keys?"

My heart was pumping like mad.

It's a very, very stressful situation,
lying to somebody.

The pressure was really high.

Whatever happens,
I've got to be ready to deal with it.

I just didn't know if I'm sending her
to prison or I'm saving her life.

I really didn't know what was gonna happen
the next few seconds.

I decided to say just two words,
"Hello, Sarah."

I hadn't been Sarah
for some considerable number of years.

I'd been all sorts of other names,
but not Sarah.

It was programmed into me
to make my excuses and get out of there.

It was purely because Renata was there
that it anchored me.

I just overwhelmed her with information
about how the whole thing had been a lie,

how he was never a spy,

and that the whole thing hadn't been real
from the very first,

and that she was coming with me.

Complete information overload.

I had my entire world turned upside down
and the floor ripped out from underneath.

You've wasted everything for nothing.

Can you prove you work for MI5?

We just needed
to follow instructions.

Yeah, I think it wasn't

until they actually took me
to a police station

and told me, "This is what Rob's done."

"This is how many other people
are involved,"

that I could conceive
that what they were saying was real.

And I realized,
"You've thrown away your career,

your family, your friends

for no good reason."

There's just no words to describe

how completely annihilated you feel.

And then they phoned up my family.

I was worried that they wouldn't want me
or that they wouldn't forgive me.

What I'd put them through was…

unacceptable, unforgivable.

And they were happy.

And my brother came and picked me up
from the police station.

And I couldn't believe that he was there
and that they still wanted me.

As she came in,

she looked terrible.

All her…

confidence
had been drained out of her.

She'd wore what she had.

She had a bag

with a moldy crust of bread in it

and very little else.

After all I'd put them through,
they still wanted me back.

You can't be angry, though.
She's part of your family.

She's your own

flesh and blood.

And it was…

a relief at the end of ten years

to have actually got there.

Our subsequent investigations revealed
Robert Freegard had many other victims.

Elizabeth Richardson, he starved her
and made her live on the streets.

Leslie Gardener spent six years with him
on and off,

and he milked her for money.

And there was a Brazilian woman's
belongings at Hotel Buffalo,

and we never found her.

Maria Hendy.

They were together for nine years.

She had two children with him.

He was abusive and violent towards her.

He punched her. He punched her so hard
that he knocked her teeth out.

There is a possibility
there's other women out there

who we just never had a lead onto.

Freegard denies charges
of kidnap, assault, and theft.

His alleged victims are to give evidence
over the next few weeks.

I was worried about testifying,

but he wasn't gonna do it to anybody else
if I could help it.

From the questions
that his defense were asking,

uh, it was very clear he was trying
to put the blame on me.

He always managed
to twist the truth.

We held hands as we heard the verdict.

A conman who posed as an MI5 spy

to steal almost a million pounds
from his victims has been jailed for life.

The judge said 34-year-old
Robert Hendy-Freegard

had used his devious charm

to drive his victims
to the depths of despair.

All of us were united in the feeling
that, actually, the legal system worked.

We went and had drinks together

and celebrated that he'd been locked up.

He ruined my life
and ruined many other people's lives,

and he gets everything he deserves.

I felt that this was not something
that was going to determine who I am

or what I am for the rest of my life.

And my family have not paid
nearly half a million pounds

for me to live a miserable life.

By pretending to be a spy,
he has power and control over people.

He wasn't a spy.
He was a sad, cruel individual.

But then the case went
to the Court of Appeal.

His lawyers have told
the Lord Chief Justice

that his victims
were never kidnapped at all.

They were free to go
whenever they pleased.

The Court of Appeal said
that in order to be a kidnapping by fraud,

there needed to be some sort
of unlawful imprisonment.

Robert Hendy-Freegard has had
his convictions for kidnap overturned.

His life sentence has also been quashed.

Because Freegard
had psychologically entrapped them,

not physically entrapped them,

then the verdict was
that he was not guilty of that offense.

On a technicality, he was released,

which is a travesty of justice.

Absolutely absurd
that somebody so blatantly guilty

could be released into the general public.

Did he learn his lesson?

Freegard was not
a one-dimensional mastermind.

He used coercive control over his victims.

He's a psychopath.

He only knows one way to live a life,

and that's by lying, and deceiving,

and abusing other people,
and using their money.

I had a real fear
that he would do this again.

Mum is still with Robert.

The police had questioned Mum,
and she said she knew exactly who he was.

Maybe she's happy, but I had
some of Mum's friends message me.

They want to know if she's okay.

One friend in particular was very worried.

Said there'd been contact
and my mum had been asking for money.

Almost desperate.

And this friend responded,
saying he wouldn't give her any money.

But if she was in trouble,
he would come pick her up,

he would help her,
he would get her out of any situation.

Mum cut off ties with him completely.

I don't know what I can do.

All we've ever wanted
was our mum to be safe and happy.

I might be the ex-husband,
but I'm not the ex-father of the children.

I'm the one that looks at my children
and sees them without a mum.

And if I'm not fighting for Sandra,
who is?

She doesn't have any brothers or sisters.
Her mum and dad are both sadly dead.

Um, you know,
I think it falls on me to do it.

Hello. Wonder if you can help me.
My name's Mark Clifton,

and, um, my ex-wife has been missing
for a few years

with what I've now found out
to be a very serious conman.

I'm very worried for her safety.

Now I know who he actually is
and what he's actually capable of.

Possibly in the north of England,
but I don't know any more than that.

I spoke to a detective agency.

They managed to track their mobile phone,

which the children have had
the odd, once-a-year-or-so call from.

It's been tracked twice
to a French telecom network.

I strongly believe that Sandra
and Freegard must have been in France,

but I don't know what part.

I have done a bit of investigation myself.

What I'm looking at now
is some photographs

of Freegard showing beagle dogs.

I believe Freegard is involved

in the buying and selling
of pedigree dogs.

It's a small world, and everybody knows
everybody within that community.

I've now been put in contact with somebody
that's genuinely concerned over Sandra,

knows some up-to-date information.

This person doesn't want to be on camera
or their face to be seen…

but is willing to meet me face-to-face,
which I think is a very brave thing to do.

Hi, it's Mark.

- Hiya. Come in.
- Thank you.

- Sit down.
- Thank you.

So, how did it all start,
meeting this man?

I had an advert
for a litter of puppies on the internet

and received a text from him.

He introduced himself as David Clifton.

He went on to tell me
that my beagles weren't good quality,

and he could help me improve
the quality of my puppies.

I do find it insulting he uses my surname.

I think he's running
under a lot of names.

Yes.

I started
going into business with him.

And I was never allowed to be in contact

with the people
I was buying the dogs from.

He's bringing dogs
backwards and forwards from France.

Sorry. From France?

I'm pretty certain about…

Sorry. The France bit's just made
my brain whirl around 100 miles an hour.

That's basically a list

of all the transactions
that I've made to him.

I would forward him the money,

do a bank transfer

to Sandra Clifton's account.

£237 for a vet bill.

£323 for a vet bill.

£478 was for a dog
that I was buying off him.

Sandra Clifton, £1,000.

Sandra, £750.

Sandra, £800 for a beagle.

Sandra Clifton, £2,345.

But the only communication
I've had with Sandra is through texts

or on an email.

So I've never actually spoken to her.

It does seem
a little bit suspicious, yeah.

And these vets bills, some of them,

did you ever see invoices
for them or anything?

No. I asked for them,

but most never turned up.

Towards the end,
he was asking for money all the time,

but I was getting to the point
where I had no more money left to give

without proof
that the money had been spent.

I then phoned a friend.

She just said,
"You need to Google this person."

I Googled, obviously, this person.
It was Robert Hendy-Freegard.

It was surreal.

I went to the police.

Did they take you seriously?

Not as seriously
as I would like them to have done.

And then the next time
I spoke to Robert Freegard,

he said Sandra worked
very high up in the police,

so would, therefore, know exactly
what I was saying to the police.

Sandra, from school, worked at a hotel
in the housekeeping department

right up until he got her to leave.

Um, never been in the police.

It's just a pack of lies.

But I did start
recording conversations with him.

You told me you'd not spoken
to the police, but you had.

I haven't spoken to any police.

Well, I don't know then.
On your record, it says that you…

you were spoken to by police last week.

So are you basically saying

that you have not made
any complaint against us whatsoever?

No.

I need to walk out.

Fucking hell.

I haven't heard that voice
in six and a half, seven years.

It just brings back

unpleasant memories

and pain.

I don't know anything about Sandra
other than I was told

that she's disappeared,

and her family haven't seen her
for six years.

I can't imagine
not wanting to see your children.

And it has to be something pretty awful…

…to stop you coming home.

Mum is still out there
with Robert.

I need to meet some of the people
that he's done this to.

It will help
with working out what to do now.

Maybe they know something
that can help us, that can help my mum.

How long did it take

for you to come to terms
with what happened to you?

Honestly, it's…

It took a very long time.

And there's times it still haunts me.

- He is very persuasive.
- Yes.

And it doesn't matter who you are.
He can do it to anyone.

And that's what
the hardest part for us is,

because as much as we now know
that's the case, that…

- You've got to get your head around it.
- Exactly.

We know what happened at that time,

and all we can do is think
that it was them doing it to us.

- But it was all him.
- Yeah.

You've got to try and find a way
to not blame your mum.

Yeah.

I could have walked away, but I couldn't.

And I think probably she could walk away,
but she can't.

Yeah.

I bet she has no freedom.

I had no passport, no driver's license.

Wow.

No way of getting a bank account.

Wow.

And if your mother's abroad…

I think he's definitely got her passport.

…she may or may not have a passport
that's hers.

Mm.

When you've realized the truth
of what you've been living is a lie…

Your mum will need a grounding point.

The only thing is, you know,
both of her parents are now gone,

so she doesn't have much of a family
to ground her

when she does eventually come back.

- Yeah.
- Yeah, but she's got you.

Um, one of my greatest fears was the fact
that something might happen to my parents

whilst I was away,

and I wouldn't have the opportunity
to set right…

Yeah.

- …the things that I'd said and done.
- Yeah.

I think it's really hard to think

that my granddad passed away
clutching this little silver pig

that he was so desperate
to give to my mum,

and I said I would give it to her.

He said, "No,"
and wouldn't let go of it, and…

One of the last times I saw him…

he died wishing to see his daughter.

If her situation is anything
like any of the rest of us,

she will have been convinced
that she can't leave.

Sadly, I think
it's a waiting game, really.

Anything I do or say
will play into his hand.

I think the only thing I can do
is wait for something to go wrong, or…

For him to make a mistake.

I don't think as simple as a waiting game,
'cause I think you'll wait forever.

This is a case
of there's something very wrong here.

Don't ever give up on her.

Oh, my God.

Oh.

After the death
of both my grandparents,

my mum stood
to inherit a house worth £300,000.

My plan for the property

was it to be kept in trust
with me and my sister,

as I feared that Freegard
may get his hands on it.

But a few months after,
as I was looking after the property,

she took me to court.

Due to a global pandemic,

all of the court hearings
had to be done by video link.

It was just sad that after seven years,
that was the only way I got to see her.

Throughout the court case,
my mum wholeheartedly believed

that I was stealing the money.

But I was just trying to protect it
for her.

The case wasn't quite cut-and-dry.

The judge, although he seemed
to be siding with me,

legally, he had to hand it over to my mum.

Jake, I put it to you
that Freegard has served his time,

and maybe your mum is happy.

Do you think that is a possible reality?

David, in the past,

took someone,
alienated everyone around them,

then controlled everything they did.

If it's the case that David
is just a man trying to have a life,

why has he done the exact same thing
all over again?

I don't know
what the right thing to do is.

All I know is that

telling people
about what we've gone through,

sharing it alongside what's happened
to Sarah and all the other victims

is really important

because people need to know who he is,

because this needs to stop.

Robert David Hendy-Freegard,

David Clifton,

whatever name he goes by,

this man should be known
because of the damage he's done.

I don't care how long it takes.

We will never give up.