Sport's Strangest Crimes

Sport's Strangest Crimes

By BBC Radio 5 live

As Lewis Hamilton makes his record-breaking debut, the 2007 season serves as backdrop for a story of power, sabotage, spying, and toxic rivalry, narrated by Pete Tong.


Bonus Episode: Listener Questions

The 2007 Formula 1 season remains a source of high drama and heated debate. With Lewis Hamilton’s stunning debut, his bitter rivalry with Fernando Alonso, and a driver’s championship that went right down to the wire – it’s one of the most controversial in Formula 1 history, with more twists and turns than a racetrack. In this bonus episode of Sport’s Strangest Crimes: Spygate, F1 journalist Sarah Holt is joined by BBC Chief F1 Writer Andrew Benson and former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestly to set the story straight. They’ll go through emails and messages from listeners, to answer your questions, expand on the coverage in the series, and give their takes on what really went down.
27/02/23·34m 46s

Bonus Episode: F1's Technological Evolution

A whopping 17 seasons have passed since the ‘Spygate’ controversy and Lewis Hamilton’s debut rocked F1. That’s a long time in a highly technical sport, so what does F1 look, feel and sound like now? And with Hamilton and Alonso still racing, how has their fierce rivalry fared over the past 15 years? As the 2023 season approaches, Sport’s Strangest Crimes: Spygate returns for a bonus episode to chart some of the biggest regulation changes since 2007 and, for better or worse, how they have impacted the sport. Sarah Holt is joined by F1 journalists Andrew Benson and Ben Edwards to answer the big questions. With a new set of regulations dropping in 2026, where do F1 insiders hope the sport will go? And now that the tech has moved on, does ‘spying’ between teams continue to this day? As Hamilton chases a record eighth title and Alonso begins a new chapter with Aston Martin - could this be the last season we see both drivers in F1?
27/02/23·40m 6s

8. The Winner Takes It All

The 2007 season reaches a nail-biting climax. McLaren and Ferrari are neck-and-neck down the final straight – but Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are at each other’s throats. The World Championship is decided by a single point in a thriller that will go down in F1 history. But even as the season officially ends, the Spygate scandal leaves a lasting legacy: reputations are wrecked, relationships are broken and tragedy strikes. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
05/01/23·31m 32s

7. Seeing Red

If the 2007 F1 season is a game of chess, then we’re just one move away from checkmate. But whose piece will fall? Following Alonso’s revelations in Hungary, McLaren is dancing on the ledge - and the FIA know it. With new evidence and new allegations, they summon the team back to Paris for a second hearing, and this time, the risks are even bigger than before – and their rivals Ferrari are ready to strike. Is this the end of the championship for McLaren? Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
29/12/22·33m 48s

6. Piranha Club Rules

Long: It’s all quiet on track and in the garages during Formula 1’s summer shutdown, but F1’s halls of power are very much open for business. And if you want a seat at the table then you need to know the rules of the game or you won’t survive. McLaren’s prodigal son has returned with his tails between his legs, but the damage has already been done. Concerned that his personal honour is on the line, team principal Ron Dennis must make one of the most painful decisions of his life. But is his agony all in vain? Three of the biggest fish in F1 have been circling in the background and they’ve got the taste of blood in their mouths. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
22/12/22·39m 50s

Bad People present True Crime Crackers 2022 ft. Spygate

Dr Julia Shaw unwraps Bad People’s choice of true crime podcasts in 2022. She talks to Formula One expert Sarah Holt about the Spygate podcast which tells the story behind industrial espionage and bitter rivalries in motor racing. Julia also meets BBC social media and disinformation correspondent Marianna Spring to discuss her series Disaster Trolls, which investigates the trolling of victims of terror attacks by people who claim they never happened We hear from Audrey Gillan, the acclaimed journalist whose podcast Bible John: Creation of a Serial Killer reinvestigates horrific murders that shocked Glasgow over fifty years ago. And Rachel Monroe discusses her story of lawlessness on the high-seas, BBC podcast Lost at Sea. CREDITS Presenter: Dr Julia Shaw Producer: Laura Northedge Assistant Producer: Hannah Ward Editor: Anna Lacey Music: Matt Chandler
21/12/22·44m 50s

5. Drivers Behaving Badly

Violent g-force, cockpit temperatures over 40C, and the constant threat of a crash: Formula 1 drivers are under intense physical pressure on the track. But what happens when emotional pressures boil over? At the Hungarian Grand Prix in August, McLaren is about to find out…and how. An extraordinary incident in the pitstop seems to suggest Fernando Alonso is playing tricks on Lewis Hamilton - but as is often the case in Formula 1 things are not always as they seem. Tensions boil over, culminating in a season-changing ultimatum for Ron Dennis. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
15/12/22·36m 0s

4. The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove

The 2007 Formula 1 season is hotting up, but it’s the action off the track that is really starting to burn. While Hamilton, Raikonnen and Alonso battle it out in Germany, It’s time for McLaren to face the guard dogs of Formula 1 - or, as they’re better known, the FIA. The team is off to Paris to defend themselves against charges of misconduct. But this isn’t any old trial. It’s one not only of rights and wrongs, but also of personal wills, big egos, and power struggles. Strap in, because Spygate is going on trial… F1 style. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
08/12/22·32m 10s

3. It All Goes Wrong for Ron

The British Grand Prix is always a highlight in the Formula 1 calendar, but in 2007, you can cut the tension with a knife. Whilst Lewis Hamilton prepares for his first home race, behind the scenes McLaren is rocked by allegations of spying from Italy. It’s a bolt from the blue for F1 insiders: Nobody saw this coming, and especially not from ‘squeaky clean’ McLaren. And to make matters worse, Ferrari are seriously challenging the British team for the Championship. Ron Dennis might know who’s behind the allegations, but how can he protect McLaren’s reputation and damage control this mounting scandal? Has he dropped the ball on what should be the season of a lifetime? Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
01/12/22·31m 54s

2. A Strange White Powder

Ferrari receives an alarming email - subject line: “Industrial Espionage”. In a sport of continuous engineering innovation, the last thing you want is rivals peeping at your secrets. But the spying alert comes at an especially bad time for the famous Italian team. On track, they’re in the middle of a team makeover, and behind the scenes, they’re investigating what looks like an internal sabotage scandal. Who at Ferrari would want to harm their own team? And what does this all have to do with that mysterious package of documents in the Surrey photocopy shop? When police and lawyers get involved, information is uncovered that blows Spygate wide open. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
24/11/22·30m 16s

1. Rivals Awaken

Excitement is in the air as the 2007 Formula 1 season gets underway. There’s a feeling that the World Championship is anyone’s for the taking. Michael Schumacher might have just retired, but Italian icon Ferrari is looking fierce and British powerhouse McLaren isn’t looking too shabby either. Under the guidance of legendary team boss Ron Dennis, the team looks like a strong contender once more with a fast car, driven by reigning world champion Fernando Alonso no less. But when their second driver - an unknown rookie called Lewis Hamilton - outperforms all expectations, it upsets the apple cart in ways that no-one can imagine. Meanwhile, in a photocopy shop in sleepy Surrey, a customer comes in to copy a package of documents that will change Formula 1 forever. Co-host and script consultant: Sarah Holt Producers: Matt Nielson and Rosie Stopher Sound design: Alex Portfelix Showrunner: Sarah Stolarz Any questions about this podcast:
17/11/22·36m 21s

Introducing Sport's Strangest Crimes: Spygate

In 2007 an improbable, low-fi crime nearly brought the high octane world of Formula One to its knees. Narrated by Pete Tong, Spygate draws in some of the most powerful men in the sports history and pits iconic teams McLaren and Ferrari against each other, all set against the backdrop of Lewis Hamilton’s record-breaking debut and his ferocious rivalry with Fernando Alonso. Buckle up - this season is one hell of a ride.

Coming soon to Sport's Strange Crimes... The Trillion Dollar Conman

From Nottingham to North Korea - how conman Russell King took the oldest club in the football league to the brink of oblivion with promises beyond their wildest dreams. All episodes will be available on Monday 21st February 2022 on BBC Sounds.
21/02/22·5m 25s

1. The Promised Land

From the world’s oldest football league club to the communist dictatorship of North Korea, this incredible story has it all. It’s a tale of greed and intrigue that takes us on a journey from the streets of Nottingham to the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain. At the heart of it, a conman who fooled football bosses, a London bank and foreign regimes. Russell King’s audacious multi-million pound scam which brought the world’s oldest professional football club Notts County to the brink of oblivion. The story begins at the club’s ground Meadow Lane. It’s 2009 and the team has just managed to get their football league status after years of fighting for survival. Out of the blue comes a knight in shining armour with promises of untold wealth from the Middle East and ambitions to catapult the club from the lowly fourth tier to the Premier League. Enter former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson and England and Arsenal legend Sol Campbell. All of a sudden Notts County are surfing the crest of the wave – they’re off to the promised land. But is all as it seems? Or are dreams about to be shattered? Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·30m 8s

2. Toy Story

A consortium called Munto Finance has taken over Notts County – the oldest professional football club in the world. Supposedly backed by millions of pounds from the Middle East, the club are promised riches beyond their wildest dreams. Sven Goran Eriksson is hired as director of football and England and Arsenal legend Sol Campbell joins the club on in a multi-million pound deal. David Beckham is rumoured to be joining the club – Andy Cole, Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo are also in the frame. The fans are ecstatic - on the threshold of new, successful era. But behind the scenes, all is not as it seems. Pulling all the strings is a businessman called Russell King. But he’s about to be outed as a convicted fraudster with a string of failed businesses behind him. Journalists begin to pick away at the façade and what they uncover makes for uncomfortable reading. Next, after just one game for the club, Sol Campbell walks off the training ground never to be seen in Nottingham again. Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·24m 34s

3. Treasure Island

Alice Levine heads to Jersey to delve deeper into fraudster Russell King’s criminal past. She discovers how King enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle on the island, living in a lavish multi-million pound home with a swimming pool and set in acres of beautiful grounds. How he owned a collection of fast cars, hired private jets and enjoyed flights in a company helicopter. He was behind a business called Belgravia - a company which provided investment funds for the rich - low risk and high returns. But, with a collapsed toy empire behind him and a two year jail sentence for fraud, King was getting himself a reputation. When he commits another fraud worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, the police are on his tail and he’s forced to flee the island for Bahrain. Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·30m 11s

4. Fool’s Gold

Revelations about Russell King’s criminal past have done nothing to dampen the spirits at Notts County football club. The team and the fans are on roll, dreaming again, their sights set on promotion. Meanwhile, in one of the most bizarre episodes yet, the club’s director of football, Sven Goran Eriksson finds himself in North Korea – a guest of one of the most notorious regimes in the world. He’s with the man pulling the strings behind the scenes at Meadow Lane – Russell King , a convicted fraudster with the police on his tail. King has a plan – a trillion dollar con worthy of a chess grand master. It’s convoluted, multi-layered and audacious but could net him his biggest pay day yet. But can he convince the North Koreans to play their part? Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·23m 2s

5. Pay the Milkman

Notts County were sold a dream of untold millions and Premier League football but it’s all come crashing down. Over the course of just a few months the club has racked up millions of pounds of debts and now they can’t even pay the milk bill. Sven Goran Eriksson has returned from his crazy trip to North Korea and conman Russell King has vanished. As the creditors come knocking, Sven and chairman Peter Trembling go hunting for new investors to save the club from impending closure. Meanwhile, the hunt for the trillion dollar conman is on... Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·24m 6s

6. To Catch a King

There’s nowhere to hide for serial fraudster Russell King. Holed-up in Bahrain, time has finally run out for the trillion dollar conman. On his tail, a detective who has spent 10 years trying to bring him to justice for his crimes on the island of Jersey. But Russell King has one last throw of the dice. Meanwhile Notts County, the football club he used and abused to satisfy his own greedy endeavours, are storming to glory in the most memorable season of their long, long history. Despite being brought to their knees financially, the club, its fans and its players, have rallied. It’s time to celebrate. Sound designer: Paul Lewis Producer: Nick Southall Series Producer: Ben Robinson Editor and Executive Producer: Carl Johnston
21/02/22·27m 51s

Coming soon to Sport's Strange Crimes...

Money laundering, the FBI, drug cartels, Ponzi schemes, extra marital affairs, off shore banks, and of course some cricket. For the past 12 months, Greg James has been trying to find out who exactly is Allen Stanford.
27/09/21·2m 24s

1. Lord's

Lord's 2008. The most sacred ground in cricket had never witnessed anything like it. Across the London skyline a helicopter appeared and slowly descended onto the hallowed turf. From within emerged a tall, brash Texan who was greeted by the great and the good of cricket. With him was a box of money, and not just a few quid....$20 million. The man was Allen Stanford and he had an audacious plan to revolutionise the game of cricket. One match for $20 million - winner takes all, the loser gets nothing. But who exactly was Allen Stanford, why was he willing to splash out $20 million and why was he being entertained by the English cricketing authorities? Meanwhile thousands of miles away in the USA, unbeknown to those gathered at Lord's, a file with Allen Stanford's name was passed to the FBI. Greg James sets off on his journey to tell the real story of Allen Stanford - The Man Who Bought Cricket.
27/09/21·35m 21s

2. The Wild West

England's mens cricketers are preparing for a match that could change their lives forever. A one-off game that could net them $1 million each with one run, wicket or catch. It's a unique and extraordinary sporting prospect bankrolled by Allen Stanford. But how? Wasn't he just a washed up business failure from Texas? After the collapse of his gym business Allen is declared bankrupt. However a chance meeting with a mysterious European traveller in the Caribbean reveals a surprising new business venture in offshore banking on the island of Montserrat - a place known as the 'Wild West of Banking'. Stanford targets money from Latin America with clients seeking a safe haven for their finances away from corrupt governments at home. However the activities of Stanford's business dealings soon alert the attention of both the FBI and Scotland Yard, with both having suspicions that is all is not above board. In episode two of 'Sports Strangest Crimes: Allen Stanford - The Man Who Bought Cricket' , Greg James continues on his quest to find out who exactly Allen Stanford was and the truth behind his business empire.
27/09/21·32m 12s

3. Antigua

After leaving the island of Montserrat, Allen moves his growing banking empire to the newly independent island of Antigua. Here he quickly realises that cricket is THE sport in the Caribbean, the game that everyone loves and follows and hatches a plan to invest in a new T20 tournament in the West Indies. He invests millions of dollars, signs up the greats of Windies cricket and sets the ball rolling on his cricket revolution. However while his banking business appears to be blossoming with thousands of customers investing hundreds of millions of dollars, behind the scenes law enforcement operations are still concerned and continue investigating the Texan and his operations. There are rumours of money laundering, bribery, lax accounting and even 'blood oaths' with senior regulators. Yet nothing seems to be able to stop Allen Stanford. He is the Lord of the Manor in Antigua and now he has his eye on revolutionising the game of cricket.
27/09/21·44m 31s

4. The Match

Antigua, 1st November, 2008. Months after landing his helicopter on the Nursery Ground at Lord's, complete with a box of cash in tow, Allen Stanford's dream is now a reality. The waiting and talking is over. One cricket match for $20 million. The winning players will walk away with a cool $1 million each, the losers will get absolutely nothing. One catch, one wicket or one run could be the difference between winning a life changing amount of money or leaving the field with nothing. According to one player the pressure made him 'feel sick'. It was The Stanford Superstars versus England for a unique and groundbreaking cricket match organised and bankrolled by the billionaire banking magnate Sir Allen Stanford. The coverage would be beamed around the world as cricket fans across the globe prepared themselves for a cricket match like no other. However away from the glitz, glamour and headlines of a match likened to the 'OK Corral', there were growing concerns amongst some players. What would happen to squad players who didn't make the starting XI, should they get any money? What about coaches, physios, analysts and other team members? The concept of Allen's match might have looked simple on paper, but things are not always what they seem.
27/09/21·39m 39s

5. Whistleblowers

After the groundbreaking $20 million cricket match, Allen Stanford was headline news across the cricketing world and beyond. He had delivered on his proposal to create a unique piece of sporting theatre, a cricket match the like of which had never been seen before. So as England's mens cricketers headed home following their defeat in the million dollar match, their counterparts in the West Indies celebrated their victory. However away form the celebrations in Antigua a couple of former Stanford employees have started a chain of events that could have huge implications for Stanford and his huge business empire. But billionaires don't shy away from a fight, especially when everything could be at stake. Sensing danger Allen employs all the tools at his disposal to try and stop the whistleblowers in their tracks.
27/09/21·32m 46s

6. Hurricane Season

Just a few months after the $20 million cricket match in Antigua, a perfect storm is brewing around Allen Stanford and his sprawling business empire. There are 'red flags' everywhere and with the financial world imploding the authorities in America are under pressure to act quickly before it's too late. But taking on a billionaire is not for the faint-hearted, there can be consequences. Both the FBI and SEC are nervous about their next steps, but fearing he could be another Bernie Madoff and is running a Ponzi scheme they hatch a plan to try and find out the truth about Sir Robert Allen Stanford. It's a race against time with billions of dollars and people's livelihoods at stake.
27/09/21·39m 16s

7. Hell

After attempted undercover operations, revelations from whistleblowers and numerous investigations going back years, the authorities in the USA decide to move against Sir Allen Stanford. In doing so the shocking truth behind his business empire is at last revealed to the world. However, big questions remain: Will he face justice? Where is the money? What will happen to thousands of investors? How will the cricket authorities react to the news that the man who 'bought cricket' is not all they thought he was? What about those who assisted his criminal activities throughout the years? In the final part of 'Sport's Strangest Crimes: Allen Stanford The Man Who Bought Cricket', Greg James discovers who the real Allen Stanford actually is and the truth about his business empire.
27/09/21·47m 30s

Coming soon with Vanilla Ice...

This is the story of the world’s most high-profile kidnap...of a horse. Welcome to Epsom, the year is 1981 and Shergar, a prized stallion, has just won the 202nd Derby by ten lengths - the longest winning margin in the race’s history. Owned by the Aga Khan, the millionaire community leader, the champion horse gained international prominence and was regarded as a national hero during a difficult period in Irish history. On a cold winter night in 1983, a group of armed men entered the Ballymany Stud in balaclavas and stole the stallion declaring: "We have come for Shergar. We want £2 million for him." The codeword for future negotiations was to be King Neptune. While the facts of this case have been widely reported, this series unpicks the theories about the disappearance. We’ll revisit all the bizarre events that took place after the kidnap, from psychics to horse skulls to negotiations led by English journalists. We unpick the police case and the comedy character leading it, trilby-wearing superintendent James Murphy and meet the sport’s journalist Derek “Tommo” Thompson who was flown to Belfast to negotiate the release. Using archives, news reports and new interviews, we go along on a ride that has some strange turns, oddball characters and juicy conspiracies. Almost 40 years on from his kidnap, we look back at a story that gripped the world to try and understand why the horse’s legacy still lives on. Told by the Texan tones of Vanilla Ice, we’ll reveal some of the strange theories that made this Irish story go global.

1. And They're Off!

A horse is kidnapped in the middle of the night. His name was Shergar. He’s not just any horse, he's a prize-winning racehorse owned by an enigmatic spiritual leader, made famous for winning the 1981 Epsom Derby by 10 lengths. A celebrity, a symbol of hope for Ireland, but mostly a real money earner. He was retired and ready to produce more prize-winning offspring, when suddenly he was taken. Vanilla Ice has become fascinated with the story and sets the scene...
01/06/21·27m 1s

2. Thieves in the Night

A cold and stormy night in Ireland is made even more terrifying by the presence of armed and masked men. “We’ve come to take Shergar, we want £2,000,000” Kidnappings were not unusual in Ireland at this time, except most of the time it was humans that were taken... some never came back. Who would want a horse? A stallion that no longer raced?
01/06/21·25m 13s

3. A Kidnap is Announced

The international press had a field day, filling the front pages and the lead item on the news. The world was now watching the case develop. A horse kidnap dominated our screens. Gossip, rumours, lies, confusion. The papers get tip offs, false calls and leads that sound legitimate. Then suddenly the kidnappers have one weird request: they're ready to negotiate, but want to speak to three English journalists.
01/06/21·26m 3s

4. Send in the Cavalry

The Europa 3, unsuspecting sports journalists get flown to Belfast, over 100 miles from the crime scene to a farm belonging to horse trainers the Maxwells. Phone calls ensue, back and forth, details change, voices get more menacing. The police are on hand to try and trace the calls, but for some reason, they can’t find them. Suddenly negotiations stop, there is a pause, then one final phone call.
01/06/21·30m 8s

5. The Decoy

Questions emerge about the validity of the calls outside Belfast and attention is drawn elsewhere where parallel secret negotiations seem to be happening with the mysterious leader and main owner of Shergar, the Aga Khan. But nothing can stop the rumour mill from churning and there are reports Shergar is in Libya with Gadaffi and also that he has been taken by the New Orleans mafia. It becomes impossible to separate fact from fiction.
01/06/21·26m 58s

6. Proof of Life

Whilst the horse wasn’t just owned by the Aga Khan, but in fact a syndicate of many shareholders, this episode focuses on one shareholder that had a lot to lose. Stan Cosgrove. The Vet. He was keen to get his insurance payout, but the only way to do so was to prove that Shergar was in fact dead. Coordinating with the kidnappers he organised to get a polaroid to prove the horse was still alive.
01/06/21·27m 19s

7. The Final Furlong

The police used many methods to locate Shergar and most interestingly they sought help from psychics, diviners and the mysterious Mobius group. They claimed to be able to locate Shergar and used parts of his saddle to sniff him out. A supergrass emerges claiming he knows the identity of the masked men. Is this the end? Not for Shergar’s legacy, his sporting achievements are still adored and his name used widely today to symbolise something we may never see again.
01/06/21·35m 35s
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