'Millionaire' major guilty of cheating; escapes jail term

MUMBAI: Cough, cough may be alright when one is afflicted with an illness but recent news should make even a pauper think thrice before using it to win big bucks. The year-and-a-half television coughing saga regarding alleged fraud having been committed on the British game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire has reached a crucial juncture.


Army major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and Tecwen Whitlock, narrowly escaped spending time in jail after being convicted of using coughs as a code. Viewers will recall that the Hindi version of the show Kaun Banega Crorepati hosted by Amitabh Bhachchan aired on Star Plus from June 2000 and proved to be the turning point for Rupert Murdoch's Star network.

An Independent report states that the Ingram couple were jailed for 18 months, suspended for two years. In terms of finance they have to pay 15,000 in addition to paying 10,000 each towards prosecution costs. The fines have to be paid within three months. The sentences could mean a loss of livelihood for the major who faces an Army administrative investigation which will almost certainly end his 15-year career.

During the episode which took place in September 2001 while the major was participating Whittock who was part of the audience coughed 19 times during the duration thereby indicating to the major that he was on track to bag riches beyond.

In the well thought out plan Whittock was to give illness in the form of hay fever and a dust allergy as the reason for his cough should questions be asked. Ingram deliberately read out each option loudly when faced with each question. When he said the correct option, Whittock, if he knew the answer coughed. Things went sour when Whittock said no in the middle as he was afraid that the major wouldn't hear his cough. This sound was captured on tape and later on presented as evidence.

Though the show host Chris Tarrant did not detect malpractice at first Celador Productions became suspicious and carefully examined tapes. They also witheld payment of the cheque. There was controversy regarding why Celador used the taxpayers money to file the suit. A cheaper alternative would have been for the company to refuse issuing the cheque and putting the onus of responsibility on the major to prove that he won the money fairly.

Social concerns surrounding the major's three daughters and Whittock's four children saved them from spending time behind bars. It took over half a day for the jury to return majority guilty verdicts against Ingram and Whittock,

All is not gloom and doom for the major yet. If the army discharges him and he proved successful in a court of appeal, he would be re-instated and given pay back dated to the day of release, The three of them are said to be considering appealing.

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