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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 17:46 GMT
Students duped by 'IRA threat'
A teacher has told a court how he and two other people were conned into going "on the run" from imaginary IRA executioners.

John Atkinson, 34, believed he had been recruited to "crack" a terrorist cell, but ended up losing most of his friends and leaving his degree course.

He told London's Blackfriars Crown Court how Robert Hendy-Freegard, 32, from Blyth, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, approached him posing as a police officer.

Mr Hendy-Freegard denies charges including kidnap, making threats to kill and deception.

He must have laughed himself to sleep
John Atkinson, witness
The prosecution claims that with the money he conned from his victims he led an extravagant lifestyle, while those he duped by his "callous" and "brazen deceit" lived in appalling, degrading conditions for years.

Giving evidence from behind screens, Mr Atkinson told the jury how he was approached in 1992 when he was a student at Harper Adams Agricultural College in Newport, Shropshire.

He said Mr Hendy-Freegard wanted him to crack an alleged IRA cell operating in the Midlands.

He admitted that ultimately this was "foolishness" on his part, leading to him pretending he had terminal cancer, being beaten up as part of a series of "tests" and dressing "effeminately" under Mr Hendy-Freegard's orders.

'Police account'

He told the court: "He must have laughed himself to sleep".

Mr Atkinson said Mr Hendy-Freegard persuaded him to go on the run with him along with two women students, Sarah Smith and Maria Hendy, after persuading them the IRA cell was "on to them".

During this time the three students were made to empty their accounts - apparently into a "police account" where their money would be held "until it was all over".

Mr Atkinson, who said he was the only one of them allowed to phone his parents, told the court he finally went home in November 1994.

But he said Mr Hendy-Freegard still insisted they lived "bogus lives" and Mr Atkinson's father gave him 40,000 to fund a "fake plumbing business".

Aids claim

The accused is alleged to have stolen 390,00 from Mr Atkinson alone.

The court also heard how he dealt with Sarah Smith's father's attempts to try and trace the students by telling them this would put them at risk from the IRA.

Mr Atkinson said on one occasion he had to tell Mr Smith his daughter was suicidal, and another time that he had liver cancer, later changing his story to say he was suffering from Aids.

He said: "I didn't go along with it willingly, I thought it was sick."

In addition to four counts of kidnapping and two of making threats to kill, Mr Hendy-Freegard is also charged with eight counts of theft, five of obtaining money by deception and two of causing actual bodily harm.

Altogether he is accused of stealing a total of 605,893 and obtaining a further 60,309 by deception.

The trial continues.

Salesman 'posed as MI5 operative'
12 Jan 04  |  Nottinghamshire

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