Whatever happened to Shergar?
Do you remember what you were doing 29 years ago this week?I can and Ill never forget it! I was negotiating with the kidnappers ofShergar to try and get the release of the worlds most valuable racehorse!
Shergar who had won the Derby the previous year by a recordwinning margin of 10 lengths before going on to win the Irish Derby and theKing George was stolen from the Aga Khans stud in Kildare, Ireland.
Valued at 10,000,000 which made him the most valuable horsein the world he had just started his stallion duties when he was sensationallysnatched from his stable and never seen again.
It was 8.30 in the evening when Ballmaney stud groom JimFitzgerald settled down to watch TV with his wife and 5 children but their homelife was shattered when armed men rushed into the house and ordered Fitzgeraldto take them to Shergar and load him onto their horsebox.
Fitzgerald was taken hostage and was only released 30 milesaway on the understanding that his family would be killed if he raised thealarm!
So it wasnt until 5am the following morning that the policefound out and by that time the horse was well gone!
The kidnapping of such a famous horse made headlines in thenewspapers and led the news on both radio and tv and a day later I got thecall!
A that time I was a young man presenting the ITV 7 on aSaturday and during the week I was in London presenting a 30 minute sportsprogramme called Thames Sport. During the middle of the night whilst I wasasleep in my London hotel I got a phone call that changed my life.
The kidnappers of Shergar have asked for you to fly toBelfast and negotiate with them for the horses release said the voice at theother end of the phone which was that of a journalist at the Press Associationin London.
I thought it was a crank call , a wind up and put the phonedown! But when it rang again I realised this was for real.
The following morning I flew from Heathrow into Belfast onBritish Airways alongside my colleague Lord Oaksey and journalist PeterCampling who had also been asked to go and talk to the kidnappers and when welanded it ewas like something out of a Hollywood movie!
There were stacks of cameras and press men pushingmicrophones in front of us and they followed us to the Europa Hotel which atthe time had the dubious claim of being the most bombed hotel in Europe!
Remember 1982 was the height of the troubles indeed Belfastwas not a friendly city indeed I found it quite frightening and on arrival thevoice tannoy said-Would Mr Thompson please pick up the hotel phone!
Is that Derek Thompson? asked a cold voice with a northernirish accent because were watching you behind the dark windows from acrossthe street!
When I confirmed it was me he told to drive 30 miles outsideof Belfast to a lonely farmhouse and Id be contacted there-but get rid of thepolice and the press he added.
I certainly wasnt going to get rid of the police but thepress were a different matter and as we rushed through the hotel kitchen andout the back door to a waiting car we managed to get away without anyone seeingus!
30 miles later we were completely lost and on a single trackroad in the middle of what was locally called bandit country and it was thenthat 6 men wearing balaclavas to cover their faces and carrying machine gunsjumped out in the middle of the road and our car screeched to a halt!
One of them came round to my side in the front passengerseat-he ordered me to wind down thewindow and then stuck his machine gun in the car a couple of inches from myface.
It was quite simply the most frightening moment I had everexperienced and I thought he was going to open fire and kill all four of us.
Are you Derek Thompson? he asked looking me straight in my eyes and I thought this is it-this is the moment he sprays the car with bullets- but he didnt and when Iconfirmed it was me he said the words I will never ever forget.
Were the undercover police, drive over the top of the hilland youll see a farmhouse, park quickly run inside and youll be contactedthere before adding and weve got the place surrounded!
It was a massive relief to get inside and it turned out tobe the home of northern Ireland breeder and trainer Jeremy Maxwell and his wifeJudy.
I took a number of phone calls from the man purporting to bethe kidnapper and every time he used a different code word- the name of afamous horse- so we would know it was him.
He told me he had the horse and I asked for a photo of thehorse alongside that days newspaper so we would know he was still alive.
I remember him saying he wanted 40,000 for the horsesrelease which would have been a bargain considering the horses massive valuebut the owners of the horse- The Aga Khan and the 34 others who had each paid250,000 for a share in Shergar- were refusing to pay out any ransom as was thecase with anyone who was kidnapped in Ireland at the time.
I must have talked to the kidnapper about 10 times but eachtime he put the phone down before the police could trace the call until about half past midnight when Imanaged to keep him talking for over a minute and a half!
That normally would have been enough to trace hiswhereabouts but imagine my reaction when the policeman sitting next to me saidthe man who was tracing the calls finished his shift at midnight and wenthome!
So we missed an excellent opportunity of finding out justwho was making the phone calls and after a restless night with not a lot ofsleep the phone rang again at 6.55 am and the voice said-The horse has had anaccident - hes dead!
The phone went dead and thats the last we heard of Shergar!
Despite exhaustive searches the horse was never found andthe common theory as to what happened was that the horse, and remember he was avery robust and lively stallion, may have proved too much to handle for his nonhorsey captors and he was probably shot.
Years later an IRA man admitted he had done it which Ibelieve but he never showed anyone where the grave was and to this day thedisappearance of Shergar remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of theturf!
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