Netflix’s The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman tells the story of one of Britain’s most audacious and successful con artists, Robert Freegard. The three-episode series shifts between Freegard’s life and his crimes in the 90s. Freegard’s crimes went undetected for many years in which he conned seven women and one man of close to a million pounds.
Following his arrest in 2002, Bob Brandon of Scotland Yard’s Fraud Squad said that he’d never met ‘such an accomplished liar’ in his 25 years as a detective. Robert was convicted of two counts of kidnapping, ten of theft, and eight of deception and sentenced to life.
However, a court quashed the kidnapping conviction, reducing his sentence to nine years. Robert Freegard left prison in 2009.
Robert Freegard goes by David Clifton and lives with his partner Sarah Clifton
In The Puppet Master, Sarah Clifton’s children, Sophie and Jake, reveal that Sarah joined a dating site in 2011 after divorcing her ex-husband, Mark. The site matched her with a man named ‘David.’
Sandra and David’s relationship progressed quickly, with David paying for a family holiday and purchasing an Audi for Sandra. David then started to cut off Sandra from her friends and family. He did so by turning the family members against each other.
David told Sandra’s ex-husband Mark that Jake was gay. The con artist then evicted Jake from the family home, forcing him to find refuge with Mark. Sophie, surprisingly, blamed Mark and Jake for the separation and didn’t speak with them for two years.
Meanwhile, David convinced her to pay rent on the family home. Eventually, Sophie realized that David was the problem and reunited with Mark and Jake.
In 2014, David and Sandra disappeared. In the house, Mark found credit card bills, court summons, and parking fines under Sandra’s name. Research revealed that ‘David’ was convicted conman, Robert Freegard.
Authorities tracked down the couple but failed to convince Sandra to return home. In 2017, Robert adopted the name David Clifton and joined the dog breeding business. In the Netflix series, an anonymous woman in the dog breeding business claimed to have been conned by David.
The Times recently spoke with Robert, who complained of unfair treatment. The Berkshire resident stated that he regretted his past actions. He added:
“I would also be the very first to admit that I have made some senseless mistakes in life of which I do unreservedly and unequivocally offer my most sincerest apologies. I have sat back and tried very hard for so long for the sake of primarily my children and those involved to shun the spotlight.”
“It is with great sadness that Sandra is not allowed to live her life with who she loves and with who loves her,” Robert complained. Sandra’s family hasn’t seen her in person since 2014, but they retain hope that she will return.
“It doesn’t matter what we’ve been through, we still love you, and we want you back in our lives,” Sandra’s son, Jake, pleads in Puppet Master.
Robert convinced his unsuspecting victims that he would protect them from the IRA
England in the 1990s lived in fear of Irish Republic Army (IRA) attacks. While working at a bar in Newport, Robert met college student John Atkinson and convinced him that he was an undercover Scotland Yard agent monitoring John’s college for IRA connections.
Given the threat of IRA terror in the 1990s, John believed Robert’s narrative. Robert ‘recruited’ John, turning him into an ‘informer.’
Out of the blue, Robert told Atkinson that his cover had been compromised, and they had to flee. They convinced two female students, Sarah Smith, and Maria Hendy, to join them. For ten years, the quartet moved from ‘safe house’ to ‘safe house’ on the run from the IRA.
Sarah and John gave Robert £700,000 for protection. Maria and Robert started a relationship, which lasted for nine years and spawned two children.
In 2002, John snapped out of Robert’s spell, abandoned him, and returned home to his family. He contacted police and wrote to Sarah Smith’s father about her daughter’s whereabouts. In Puppet Master, Atkinson expresses regret for his actions:
“I’d just lost a fortune, and put my family through hell. I’d dragged two innocent girls from college into a web of lies, and the self-loathing was immense. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to exist.”
John periodically left the safe houses to spend Sarah and John’s money on lavish trips to Europe. On one of his travels, he met American psychologist Kim Adams, whom he promised to marry. He told her friends that she was terminally ill and wanted to travel the world before she passed.
Adams’s disappearance attracted the FBI’s interest, which teamed up with the Metropolitan Police to arrest Robert. Authorities found dozens of passports and credit cards belonging to Freegard’s victims in a hotel room rented by the conman.
In his interview with The Times, Robert suggested that people have entirely ignored his side of the story. He said:
“It seems that there are those who were involved in this sorry episode that must obviously need reminding of a large number of facts and truths that they’ve either forgotten or have chosen to ignore.”