The mystery Forest man behind Who Wants to be a Millionaire? quiz syndicate

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Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Ingram and Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant in the ITV docu-drama Quiz

A BRAINBOX banned from playing New Forest pub quiz machines because he made so much money has been unmasked as the mastermind of a group that scooped huge winnings from the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? show.

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Patrick Spooner (53), who is known as Paddy and hails from Ringwood, twice demonstrated his huge general knowledge by winning £250,000 on the UK and Australian versions of the popular programme.

But fresh light has been thrown on his further involvement with the release of primetime ITV docu-drama Quiz, which claims he actually pocketed far more by running a secret syndicate.

It is said the syndicate got members onto the show as contestants, helping them boost their prize money and taking a cut of the winnings.

Mr Spooner (pictured) is an ex-Arnewood School pupil and the son of former New Milton police officer and chess player Keith Spooner.

He has rarely spoken publicly but has said there was nothing wrong with what he did. There is no suggestion he did anything illegal.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire? started in 1998 and was hosted by Chris Tarrant. It attracted up to 19.1-million viewers who watched contestants try to answer 15 questions to get the seven-figure top prize.

Paddy Spooner

Mr Spooner’s targeting of the show features as a subplot on Quiz, which aired on Easter Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and depicts infamous contestant Major Charles Ingram who cheated to win the £1m jackpot in 2001.

Ingram was investigated by police over claims he and his wife, Diana, had teamed up with university lecturer Tecwen Whittock, who was in the audience and coughed on occasions Ingram needed help answering questions.

The trio were convicted of procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception. However, the drama suggests they may have been innocent.

Penned by award-winning playwright James Graham, the drama airs claims that Mr Spooner confessed to executives of Celador – the company behind Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – to creating a syndicate that targeted the show.

Celador said the group comprised UK quiz enthusiasts who gamed the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? phoneline entry process to give them a better chance of getting on the show, and practised the “fastest finger” studio round to get into the hotseat.

Mr Spooner had realised the entry questions related to facts on the Office for National Statistics database, said Celador, so he studied them for hours on end.

Contestants who made it into the hotseat had three lifelines which included phoning a friend. Mr Spooner’s syndicate of quiz buffs were on the list and it was claimed on some occasions they worked together for the right answer.

Mr Spooner scooped £250,000 on the UK and Australian Who Wants to be a Millionaire? but his luck ran out on the Irish version when he tossed a coin and got the wrong answer for €4,000.

Mr Spooner, who represented Sway’s Forest Heath pub in the Whitbread quiz league, was well-known locally having been banned from playing pub quiz machines and likened to a “safe cracker” for using his knowledge to beat them.

Staff at Shorefield Country Park were even issued with photographs so they could recognise him.

The A&T contacted Mr Spooner, who now lives in Southbourne, but he did not address the claims directly.

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