An "evil" conman who posed as an MI5 spy during a #1 million "odyssey of deceit", fleecing hundreds of thousands of pounds from the families of two former Midland students, was jailed for life today.

For ten years, Nottinghamshire control freak Robert Hendy-Freegard, 34, nicknamed "The Puppetmaster", ruthlessly exploited the weaknesses of others and callously commandeered their lives.

By Easter 1993, his first two victims, John Atkinson and Sarah Smith, were just months away from completing their degrees at Harper Adams agricultural college in Newport, Shropshire.

* More on this story in Wednesday's Birmingham Post *

Sentencing Hendy-Freegard, Judge Deva Pillay said: "Their misfortune was that they fell into your web of deceit and lies which resulted in them not completing their studies, but which left them at times destitute and in penury, walking the streets until 1997, when John Atkinson was at least able to break free.

He continued: "In the case of Sarah Smith this appalling state continued for a further six years until 2003 when she was finally reunited with her family, a full decade after you had first kidnapped her.

"They told this court of, at times, being driven to such despair that John Atkinson certainly even contemplated suicide, of having obtained very substantial sums of money from their families, all of which were handed over to you in cash ostensibly to be placed in a secure account and to their credit.

"There was, of course, no truth in this latter assertion."

Hendy-Freegard, of High Street, Blyth, Nottinghamshire, was convicted at London's Blackfriars Crown Court after an eight-month trial of 20 offences of theft, deception and "kidnapping by fraud" between 1993 and 2003.