Fleeing British conman injures police in remote French village

Robert Hendy-Freegard was the subject of a Netflix documentary titled The Puppet Master



A screengrab from Netflix documentary The Puppet Master shows a photo of Robert Hendy-Freegard.
A screengrab from Netflix documentary The Puppet Master shows a photo of Robert Hendy-Freegard.

By AFP

Published: Fri 26 Aug 2022, 8:49 PM

A British conman who was the subject of a Netflix documentary is on the run in France after injuring two police officers while fleeing a raid, local officials said on Friday.

Robert Hendy-Freegard, a 51-year-old former bartender, had been illegally breeding dogs and living on-and-off in the village of Vidaillat in the sparsely populated Creuse region of central France since 2015, according to local mayor Martine Laporte.

French workplace and animal rights inspectors accompanied by police carried out an inspection on Thursday at the remote house where he lived with his partner, who was “a total recluse” and “completely under his influence”, Laporte told AFP.

“While police were asking one of the partners to accompany them to the nearest station, the individual started his vehicle and hit two officers before fleeing,” a statement from the police in the Creuse region said.

Both officers were injured by Hendy-Freegard’s Audi A3 car, with one requiring hospital treatment for a nose wound.

An investigation has been opened by the local prosecutors, with Hendy-Freegard facing charges of attempted murder of a public official which carry a maximum 30-year jail term.

The convicted fraudster has been dubbed “The Puppet Master” for his ability to exert control over his victims.

He was jailed for life by a London court in 2005 for deception, theft and kidnapping in an extraordinary trial that heard from seven people whose money he used to enjoy luxury cars and five-star holidays.

The kidnap charges were later quashed on appeal, meaning he was released from prison in 2009 — when outraged victims warned he would strike again.

Earlier this year, he was the subject of a three-part Netflix documentary “The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman” which appears to have brought about Thursday’s raid.

In it, the children of a woman believed to be his current partner, Sandra Clifton, said she had disappeared after meeting him.

Neighbours said that Clifton lived in “awful conditions” in the isolated house in the middle of the woods and was rarely seen in the village, unlike Hendy-Freegard who made regular trips to Britain.

“She never went out, apart from in her small courtyard,” a neighbour called Serge said, declining to give his surname.

“I’ve been writing to the police, the prefect, the mayor’s office since 2017 but they didn’t take it seriously,” he said.

“I described what was happening: it was an illegal dog-breeding centre and she was living in awful conditions.”

In February, a retired local couple living close to the house watched the Netflix documentary and recognised Clifton.

They then contacted her daughter online.

“Her son came over this week and decided not to leave without his mother. He was there to take her home,” one of them told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Clifton was heading for the British embassy in Paris, they said.

The couple’s dogs have been taken into care by the French animal charity SPA.

During his London trial, Hendy-Freegard was said to have lived by the motto “Lies have to be big to be convincing”.

He had persuaded his victims to believe he was a British intelligence officer and they were on the run from terrorists.

One of them, Sarah Smith, recalled incidents such as being taken to a so-called “safe house” with a bucket over her head, having to hide in cupboards to avoid visitors, and spending three weeks in a locked bathroom with little to eat.


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