Cough was allergy and dust not deception, 'Millionaire' fraud trial told

Arifa Akbar@arifa_akbar
Saturday 15 March 2003 01:00

A college lecturer accused of helping an Army major to win the £1m prize on Who Wants to be a Millionaire said yesterday his repeated coughs on the television show had been caused by a dust allergy.

Tecwen Whittock, who was interviewed by detectives more than two months after the soldier's appearance on the show, told Southwark Crown Court his allegedly strategic coughing had been "totally innocent".

Major Charles Ingram, 39, and his wife, Diana, 38, a nursery nurse, both of Easterton, Wiltshire, deny cheating in a September recording of the programme. They are accused of conspiring with Mr Whittock, 52, of Cardiff, head of business studies at Pontypridd College, who also denies the charge. The prosecution has claimed the college lecturer, who was in the audience while the major was in the "hot seat", used 19 strategically placed coughs to help the officer to choose correct answers.

Extracts of police interviews were read to the court by the prosecution, in which he had been asked: "Do you think he [Major Ingram] did defraud them?" Mr Whittock replied: "Not as far as I know. I have sat in this chair myself. What I have said to people is he is going to be bloody brave if he is going to sit in that chair and distinguish between two to three people coughing, sitting there and knowing he has got the right cough.

"I sat there, I know I coughed and I think other people coughed and I don't think he did it."

The jury was told a prepared statement was found in a police raid on his home. In it, he said: "I did not help him to answer any questions by using coughing as a signal. I was innocently coughing at times because I had an irritable cough, which worsened the longer I sat there."

He said he had hay fever and a dust allergy and said he was not even offered a glass of water until near the end of the major's hot-seat session. At the time, Mr Whittock had three children at independent school and owed £20,000 on his credit card. The trial continues.