The victims of conman Robert Hendy-Freegard were celebrating today after the bogus MI5 spy was jailed for life for an extraordinary £1 million sterling "odyssey of deceit".
The 34-year-old ex-car salesman, nicknamed callously commandeered the lives of a string of unsuspecting men and women during a decade-long charade, unprecedented in its audacity and scope.
With a cocktail of "devious charm" and James Bond-type tales of shadowy IRA killers, he turned most of his victims into virtual slaves, conning them out of hundreds of thousands of pounds to fund a lavish millionaire lifestyle.
By contrast they suffered abject poverty, were forced to carry out bizarre "missions", and were left trembling in terror from his explosive temper and claims that assassins were stalking their every move.
At least two contemplated suicide. But Hendy-Freegard's elaborate web of lies finally unravelled today when he was sentenced to life in prison at Blackfriars Crown Court. After a case described in court as "unique" in the annals of legal history, some of the conman's victims spoke publicly for the first time about their appalling ordeal.
His longest suffering victim, Sarah Smith, one of those who thought about taking her own life, said she was "absolutely ecstatic" at the life sentence he received.
Former student John Atkinson, who handed over £300,000 to the arch swindler, said he felt "completely vindicated". And solicitor Caroline Cowper, who first alerted police to the giant con, said a "danger to society" had been taken off the streets.
Miss Smith and Mr Atkinson, who first fell prey to Hendy-Freegard when both were students at an agricultural college, had turned to each other and gripped hands in court as the life sentence was passed.
But their tormentor, immaculately dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and blue patterned tie, showed not a flicker of emotion. Instead, he wore his trademark look of impassivity and listened to proceedings as if he was nothing more than a vaguely interested bystander.
Describing him as an "egotistical confidence trickster", Judge Deva Pillay told Hendy-Freegard he had been convicted of "the most heinous patterns of offending". He said: "In my judgment the several verdicts of the jury in this case represent a vindication of your victims and a telling testament to their courage, tenacity and spirit to survive and overcome adversity, despite the depths of despair to which they were driven by you."
Hendy-Freegard, of High Street, Blyth, Nottinghamshire, was convicted after an earlier eight-month trial of 20 offences of theft, deception and "kidnapping by fraud" between 1993 and 2003.
He was told it would be March 2013 before parole was even considered. Outside court, case officer Detective Sergeant Bob Brandon said Hendy-Freegard had brainwashed his victims to feed his twisted craving for power.
"He is a fairly sad pathetic individual, a second-hand car salesman who has achieved nothing in his life," he said. "By pretending to be a spy, he achieved power and control over people's lives. He was not a spy, he was a sad, cruel individual."