| 11.3°C Dublin

It was a plot worthy of a Dick Francis thriller, but the villain proved to be 'desperately stupid'

A cast of characters that included a champion thoroughbred, wealthy Irish owners and Shergar's trainer would sit well in any Dick Francis novel -- only the villain proved to be a disappointment.

Few were ready to take any chances with their £1m (€1.15m) prizewinner, Conduit, when a threatening text message warned them that the horse would be killed if they did not scratch the favourite from the King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

A security cordon was thrown around the horse in the run-up to race day at Ascot last July and police were alerted. The alarm intensified with the arrival of further threatening emails.

Detectives, however, traced the messages with embarrassing ease back to Andrew Rodgerson, a 26-year-old travel agent who lives with his parents near Rochdale, England.

Bolton Crown Court was told yesterday that Rodgerson, a habitual gambler, had been recruited by a shadowy syndicate to place their bets and had resorted to blackmail after he failed to place the final bet on Conduit in an accumulator worth £55,000 (€61,000).

Fearing for his safety, he sent a series of increasingly desperate messages to Peter Reynolds, general manager of the Ballymacoll Stud, the horse's Irish owners, warning them that their horse would be killed unless it was scratched.

Arrested

In fact, Rodgerson was arrested and three days later Conduit, ridden by Ryan Moore and trained by Michael Stoute, romped home to win the £500,000 (€558,000) race.

Judge Angela Nield sentenced Rodgerson to eight months and two weeks in prison before suspending the term for two years. He pleaded guilty to threatening to commit damage. A more serious charge of blackmail was dropped. Duncan Wilcock, for the prosecution, said Mr Reynolds received the first text on Wednesday, July 15, 10 days before the race. It read: "Dear Peter, We would just like to warn you should Conduit run in the King George then the horse will be killed."

Mr Reynolds contacted Michael Stoute, once Shergar's trainer, at the Newmarket yard where Conduit was stabled.

Later the same day Mr Reynolds received an email purporting to come from somebody who had overheard similar threats made in a bar. Mr Reynolds, initially sceptical, contacted the police.

Five days later Mr Reynolds received another email, this time reading: "Dear Peter, I do not believe you are taking the threat of death to Conduit very seriously. We want the horse removed from the King George this weekend. If you comply the horse will live. There are people in and around Newmarket ready and willing and also people at Ascot on Saturday".

Rodgerson developed a gambling habit in his teens and had gotten into financial difficulties. He had been drawn into the betting syndicate, who used him to place three or four bets worth up to £400 each day. He told police that he failed to place a crucial bet on Conduit in the final part of an accumulator that was due to net the syndicate £55,000 if the horse won.

Terrified

Joseph Hart, for the defence, said Rodgerson was "utterly terrified" by the consequences of his failure to place the bet. "It was not just a chum of his. These were powerful, shadowy men. He thought they would be people who would hurt him."

Rodgerson had committed an "unsophisticated and desperately stupid crime". He was ordered to carry out 240 hours of community service.

hnews@herald.ie


Privacy