The racing pundit who mediated with Shergar’s kidnappers has told how the IRA informer who claimed the horse was shot shortly after he was snatched knew secret codes used during the hostage talks.
Mystery has always surrounded the fate of the most valuable racehorse in the world after he was taken at gunpoint from Ballymany Stud in 1983.
Derek Thompson, who worked for ITV’s racing team at the time, was one of three horseracing journalists who was asked by the IRA to conduct the hostage talks in Belfast.
A password he had never revealed was included in a book written by IRA supergrass Seán O’Callaghan, who claimed the IRA organised the theft but had killed the horse within 36 hours when the stallion injured his leg.
In a new TV3 documentary, Mr Thompson says O’Callaghan revealed a covert code word used in the phone negotiations in his book, The Informer.
“Everything I remembered I put on to a tape recorder and the police were aware of this, and a number of code names I was using came out, but one or two didn’t.
“Then I was reading a book by this IRA man and one of the code names was there that hadn’t become public. He used a code word that very, very few people knew.”
He reveals how he was called in the middle of the night by the Press Association and told he had been requested to carry out the negotiations. He tells of how he entered the Europa Hotel surrounded by camera crews and was told to pick up a phone.
He was told to make his way to an isolated farm 30 miles from Belfast, the home of horseracing trainer Jeremy Maxwell, and over the course of the next eight hours, he took numerous phone calls, each beginning with a different password.
“The phone calls started and we had a little code word. He said ‘The next time I call I will be called Arkle’, the next time was another horse, the next time it was another. There must have been 10 or 12 phone calls and it was all in one day.”
He spent all day trying to keep his interlocutor on the phone for more than 90 seconds so the call could be traced, but when he finally succeeded, he was told the man who traced the calls had gone off his shift.
“The last phone call came through half an hour after midnight and I kept him talking for over a minute and a half.
“When the phone went dead I said to the policemen ‘did we trace the call?’ I’ll never forget what he said.
“He said ‘Thomo, we didn’t trace the call because the man who traces the calls went off shift at midnight.’”
He reveals the phone rang one last time. “The following morning at 7 o’clock there was another phone call which said ‘The horse has had an accident. He’s dead.’ He then hung up.”
The racing pundit said he still often wonders about the fate of the Aga Khan’s superhorse.
“I still don’t know if I was talking to the real kidnappers or not. He was the Aga Khan’s horse and we had grown up with the Aga Khan’s horses winning and we think of him as the people’s horse.
“I still to this day wake up in the middle of the night every so often and wonder what really did happen to Shergar. I would love to know.”
*Shergar: Countdown to a Kidnapping airs tonight at 10pm on TV3.
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