09 February 2006

Today in history: Police hunt Shergar's kidnappers

BBC ON THIS DAY

9 February 1983

**Please see the >>'Ireland's OWN' article from the Irish News for a more complete story about Shergar

A nationwide hunt for 1981 Derby winner Shergar has begun in Ireland.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe prize stallion was kidnapped last night from stables in County Kildare owned by the Aga Khan and his family for 60 years.

The unidentified kidnappers - numbering at least six - told head groom James Fitzgerald they would telephone a ransom demand by lunchtime today but have still made no contact.

His trainer Michael Stoute said: "Shergar was the best horse I have ever trained and I only hope to God nothing happens to him."

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Nicknamed "Shergar the wonder-horse", he has been valued by Lloyds of London at £10 million at stud and carried an insurance premium of £300,000 when he was in competition. (Photo and background info from >>Aga Khan Studs.)

A bay colt with a distinctive white blaze, Shergar was named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and retired from racing that September.

Stud

He is owned by a syndicate including Islamic leader the Aga Khan.

The breeding season starts in a week's time and Shergar was due to start his second season as a stud - to mate with up to 55 mares.

So far his fertility rate has been impressive as 42 of the mares he covered last year are in foal and another has already given birth.

The kidnap - the first of its kind in Ireland - began when two armed and masked men burst into the home of Mr Fitzgerald at the Ballymany stud in Newbridge.

The raiders then locked Mr Fitzgerald's family in a downstairs room before forcing him - at gunpoint - to release Shergar from his security stable.

Then they pushed the horse and head groom into a horsebox and drove off.

Mr Fitzgerald was released four hours later and 40 miles away from the stud farm.

Detectives questioned him for several hours before putting listening devices in his home in preparation for further contact from the kidnappers.

In Context

A ransom of £2m was phoned though on the morning of 10 February.

By the end of the day the ransom had dropped to £40,000, the equivalent of £1,000 for each of the 40 stakes in the horse.

All the shareholders refused to pay the money because they wanted to deter future kidnappings.

Numerous hoax calls and false alarms were received by the police and media about sightings of Shergar, dead and alive.

Insurers refused to pay out without evidence of the horse's death.

Shergar has never been found and his kidnappers have never been officially identified.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Click to view - Painting of Shergar by >>Harvey Mayson

Most evidence points to the involvement of the IRA.

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