‘Puppet Master’ may have more victims living in isolation in France

We spoke to the French mayor who fears more women, under the conman’s influence, could be living disconnected from the world

Robert Hendy-Freegard gained psychological control over multiple women, including by claiming to be an MI5 agent
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More English-speaking victims of ‘Puppet Master’ conman, Robert Hendy-Freegard, could be living secluded in France, unaware the British fraudster has been arrested.

The theory comes from Martine Laporte, mayor of the village of Vidaillat (Creuse), where Sandra Clifton, one of Hendy-Freegard’s alleged victims lived with him for seven years until last year, having few interactions with locals.

Ms Laporte told The Connexion Hendy-Freegard, who she met twice, did not speak French.

Read more: Netflix conman Robert Hendy-Freegard appears in court in France

He told women they were targeted by terrorists

His method is known to have consisted of gaining psychological control over multiple women, including by claiming to be an MI5 agent.

Ms Clifton returned to the UK last year after her children, who had been looking for her since 2016, tracked her down when a relation of her French neighbours contacted them following the release of Netflix docuseries The Puppet Master.

Hendy-Freegard, 51, was in 2005 sentenced to life in the UK for kidnapping, theft and decep­tion including extorting more than £1million, although the kidnapping conviction was overturned in 2009 as no physical force had been used.

He told the women they were being targeted by terrorists and he could protect them.

He was dubbed ‘The Puppet Master’ by Scotland Yard.

Locals raised the alarm

Locals in Vidaillat became suspicious over Ms Clifton’s isolated life. Officials were also concerned over the poor conditions in which the dogs the couple were breeding were being kept.

Read more: French mayor raised alarm over British ‘Puppet Master’ conman in 2018

When gendarmes and animal rights inspectors visited last year Hendy-Freegard allegedly deliberately drove at two gendarmes as he fled the scene, badly injuring them.

He was arrested on attempted murder charges in Belgium in Septem­ber and extradited to France where he is in custody facing trial.

At present he has not faced further formal charges relating to coercion, however villagers and the mayor have alerted the authorities to concerns.

‘More victims could be living under his influence in France’

The Creuse prefecture confirmed to The Connexion that at one point the departmental official in charge of women’s rights visited the house and attempted to make contact with Ms Clifton.

She suggested to the mayor she file an alert and put Ms Clifton in touch with an association helping vulnerable women. The prefecture also confirmed the very serious nature of the current charges of attempted murder of gendarmerie officers.

Ms Laporte told The Conne­xion she is worried that more victims could still be living in France isolated and unaware of what is happening.

“How could they know that he was arrested, since they would be living completely disconnected from the rest of the world?”, she said.

‘Do not try and approach potential victims’

She says readers may be aware of women living in seclusion, especially as there are a lot of Britons in her department and surrounding areas. They should contact the gendarmerie if they have information, she said.

She said in her experience it would be best not to try to approach such women as they would be “completely isolated and under his influence”.

She bases her suspicions on repeated interactions between herself and Vidaillat residents and Ms Clifton over the years.

“Any time we tried to approach her, she would not speak.

“She would call Mr Hendy-Freegard and he would come to us in around 75 minutes. I think he had a pied-à-terre nearby because he slowly spent less and less time in the village.”

Do phones belong to other victims?

Her theory is shared by Sarah Smith, one of Hendy-Freegard’s UK deception victims.

She told French newspaper JDD she was aware French police had found many phones at the house, leaving her questioning whether they belonged to other victims.

Ms Laporte said she had shared her theory with the public prosecutor’s office in Limoges, where Hendy-Freegard is detained.

The prosecutor declined to comment.

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