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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Fake spy created 'web of deceit'
By Eric Simpson
BBC News, Nottingham

Caroline Cowper
Victims like Caroline Cowper may have been under extreme pressure
As a barman is jailed for a remarkable 10-year kidnap con, two psychologists explain how his victims fell prey to his brainwashing.

The victims of salesman and bartender Robert Hendy-Freegard have painted a surreal picture of a man who had almost complete control over their lives.

He used sexual conquest, threats and tales of a shadowy spy world to convince friends to hand over money and obey his whims, the court heard.

He was described as "a spider at the centre of a web of deceit".

But how did he manage to exert such control and why did his victims submit and not simply walk away?

'Us versus them'

Psychologists with an interest in mind control said he probably used classic techniques of isolation and social pressure to push them into a corner from which they felt they could not escape.

Jill Mytton, a psychologist and lecturer at London South Bank University, said Hendy-Freegard stripped the victims of their usual support group - families and friends - in an attempt to belittle them.

"A sense of powerlessness grows and the person's good judgement and understanding of what is going on diminished," she said.

brainwash victim (model)
Social and physical environment controlled
Undermine free will
Manipulate rewards and punishment

"They had no-one to check their thoughts and perceptions with - they were isolated and thus became dependent on him.

"There is also a sense of 'us' against 'them'.

"As the isolation intensifies, it becomes harder to take action by leaving or escaping whether physically or psychologically."

She said Hendy-Freegard also controlled their physical environment by taking charge of what money and food they had which increased their sense of dependence on him.

"I suspect that these people were easily convinced of the bogus spy's authenticity because they wanted to be convinced and were made to feel special," she said.

Referring to court testimony about Hendy-Freegard's love affairs with several of the victims, Ms Mytton said they may have been "open to believing (his stories) out of a desire for romance".

Dr Keith Ashcroft, a forensic psychologist based in Manchester, said "thought control" works by "drastically destabilizing the victim's sense of self by getting them to forget their past lives, change their world view, accept a novel, often warped version of reality".

He said people trying to brainwash their victims make sure they develop a strong dependency on the captor.

But he stressed that these practices were usually put in place by a group of individuals, such as terrorists with extreme ideologies, rather than a single individual, as in the case of Hendy-Freegard.


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