Teacher: Bogus policeman pushed me to brink of suicide over IRA threat says victim

A teacher who allegedly spent three years on the run from the IRA on the advice of a bogus police officer described yesterday how he had been driven to the brink of suicide.

John Atkinson, 34, claimed he handed over more than £390,000 in the belief that it would safeguard him after being informed by "consummate trickster" Robert Hendy-Freegard that his life was at risk. Blackfriars Crown Court heard that Mr Atkinson was one of six alleged victims who claimed to have handed over more than £650,000 to Mr Hendy-Freegard.

Mr Hendy-Freegard, 32, from Blyth, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, denies 21 charges, including kidnapping, theft, deception, assault and threats to kill between 1993 and 2003, when he was arrested.

The jury heard how Mr Atkinson was one of three students at the Harper Adams Agricultural College in Newport, Shropshire, who were targeted in 1993 by the defendant who was working at a pub near by.

Mr Hendy-Freegard claimed that his cover as an undercover Special Branch officer for MI5 or Scotland Yard investigating an IRA cell at the college had been blown, and convinced the students that by association their lives were also at risk.

Mr Atkinson, who now teaches English abroad, told how his parents were subsequently duped into believing his story after the defendant provided an "official" letter.

As the family struggled to borrow money from relatives and eventually sold their farm, Mr Atkinson was sent on at least 20 fruitless "missions" around the country as part of the elaborate hoax.

Describing how he was driven to contemplate suicide, he said: "I was very depressed. Even if the IRA did come to shoot me, I was not living a life. I was dead already."

He added: "I had risked everything. My life was on hold. My college career had ended. I had lost all my friends.

"My self-respect, my self-esteem were at an all-time low. But the only way I could hurt my parents more was by killing myself."

Having handed over an estimated £390,000 to Mr Hendy-Freegard, he began to questions the truth of the defendant's claims. When he finally broke away three years later, he described his horror on realising that he had been little more than "a puppet to con my parents".

He said: "For months afterwards, I still believed that Rob was a policeman. It was only with time I finally allowed myself to admit that he was nothing more than a dirty little conman."

The trial continues.