The McCanns The Algebra of Justice

THE MAJOR INGRAM FRAUD CASE - Charles Ingram innocent

A case that epitomizes capitalism versus talent

In the Major Ingram case, a rising officer of the British Army and MENSA achiever rose to the challenge of ITV's quiz show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" hoping to win £32,000 that he wanted for domestic reasons, and he worked his way through all the questions and won the maximum prize of £1,000,000 offered. The TV company distrusted his performance and refused to pay up, accusing him of cheating. The Major took this blow with the dignity of an officer and soldier who had been in action before, and so he was prosecuted for fraud in our criminal courts, where he was convicted.

The prosecution against Major Ingram was based on the TV company's theory that in answering the questions, he had used the assistance of an acquaintance in the audience who was also hoping for a spot on the show. The company's case was based on the coughing of this third party, who coughed throughout Ingram's performance, as did others, and their theory was that when Major Ingram read out the four options to a question as he mulled them over, the man in the audience coughed to identify the right answer for him. Since the acquaintance had coughed throughout his performance and that Major Ingram had spent some time in thought over most of the questions, their case means that the third party must have answered most of the questions for him.

The criminal prosecution was based on this theory, which turned the rising army officer and MENSA achiever into an intellectual dud, and the unsuccessful challenger into the successful intellect (except that he wasn't in a position to win the prize), and it has the Major being lucky with an unrealistic strategy (though he was evidently not lucky with his winnings), and it has Major Ingram as the cheat instead of the TV company, with the TV company profitting, and Major Ingram robbed of his prize. These reversed values in a trial equation are worth noting because they can identify a central hypocrisy. Another interesting symmetry in this case is that the prosecution has the third party producing Major Ingram's performance, which reflects the professional psychology of TV people.

There are many problems with the prosecution case. To begin with, neither the programme's question master, Chris Tarrant, nor Major Ingram, nor the TV audience at home, heard any of this coughing, and it wasn't until a boosted off-air recording was produced by the TV company for the criminal prosecution that anyone knew of it.

Another problem is that the idea for the scam isn't credible or realistic. Even if the third party had had mobile phone contact with a team of friends with encyclopedias it would not be feasible.

This quiz show is unusually well designed by today's standards, beginning with joke questions to help the contestant settle in with the cameras and so forth, and then proceeding with easy questions to aid concentration, and through this process the contestant would be able to tackle any such questions that might be answerable to deep subconscious memory or to logical deduction, these getting progressively harder as the prize rises in value. It follows the progressive design of the Raven test. If the Major had undertaken the challenge with the system that he was accused with, his success would be entirely dependent on it, because he would not be able to develop the concentration needed to progress by himself. So either he would need to know the answer immediately or else the other would, and if neither did, his bid must fail.

Major Ingram used all three of the assists that "WWTBAM?" offers its contestants, and this shows that he needed them, and that his performance was in accordance with the game's rules. He used the "Ask The Audience" option for a pop TV question about Coronation Street (they were after all a mass TV audience), and the "Phone A Friend" option for the River Foyle question (and he went with his friend's suggestion), and he used the "Fifty-Fifty" option for the Craig David/A1 pop song question, and here, his performance shows that he needed to simplify the job of recalling the answer from his memory.

In this Craig David/A1 question, Major Ingram had difficulty in discerning which was the right answer, but in reading out the two options aloud as he mulled them over, he did not leave sufficient time between "A1" and "Craig David" for his alleged coughist to cough had "A1" been the right answer and this had been the purpose of his reading the options out or the coughing. This undermines the prosecution contention that this was why he was reading the options out. In this question, the prosecution also cited an audience gasp when he picked the wrong option as being the reason that he changed his mind, but in that matter also, it was no business of the prosecution to use it in their case of conspiracy to cheat.

In the Holbein question, a single cough was heard, but Ingram had selected his final answer straight away, and the same occurred with the next question (Anthony Eden), but he mulled this one over before making it his final answer.

In the Emmental question, Ingram's performance was the same as in the other questions that featured coughs, but there were no coughs. He was evidently using subconscious memory while thinking aloud, which indicates concentration. This instance demonstrates that the same applied with those questions where there were coughs.

Another question that was used against him was the Jacqueline Kennedy one, which is relatively easy, and he picked the right answer first and before the cough.

In the Googol and Paris questions, his performance is self-evidently consistent with deductive logic, carefully isolating the least likely option as the right answer, which it was. These clearly functioned as trick questions. He did not know the answers, and he had to work them out.

In the last question, Googol, the answer is accessible to deduction as the word is composed of materials that comprise its meaning. There are two 'g's in it (American for 1,000: a "grand"), and three zeros in a configuration of 00 and 0, and a lower-case 'L', which serves as a '1'. It is apparent from this that the word Googol was created by an American to represent the mathematical figure which was the subject of the question. This, and the fact that it was the only option that did not look obviously like a technological word, would help to identify it as the likely right answer.

In this last question, there were two coughs in rapid succession after Ingram read out the word Googol for the last time, and there were two more shortly after this without any mention of this word, and there were two more coughs in rapid succession again when Ingram decided to go for it and without any mention of the word. This cannot be taken to be a signal from the alleged coughist that the word was the correct answer, and his wife's torment in her seat when she realized that he was risking the £468,000 indicates that there was no coughing strategem to his performance as far as she knew.

To understand the defence, it is necessary to understand not only the professional psychology of TV people, but also that of the MENSA achiever and the rising Major in the British Army. The fact that neither government nor the press was able to do this should be a matter of concern to everyone.

To achieve professional advance and excellence one has to develop the compunction to challenge oneself and to achieve in them, and in the course of a career this hunger becomes basic to one's psychology. The irony in Major Ingram's position is that if he had won his million it would have undermined his future career in the Army because it would have undermined his ambition for it. There would have been a subconscious conflict of interest between himself and his wife here, because his wife would have wanted the £1,000,000 while Major Ingram's career would not. The same applies to the £468,000 that he was prepared to gamble on the last of the questions, having won the £32,000 that he had hoped to get. No one would willingly throw away £468,000, and the reason for his doing this must be due to his professional psychology, and also to the nature of the challenge presented to him. He was a Major in the British Army and a MENSA achiever after all. The psychology behind Major Ingram's gamble on this last question is evidently that of daring and bravery (the soldier), sound judgment (the officer), and the successful achiever in intelligence tests.

The witness in whom the suspicion of a scam appears to have originated was a fellow contestant who was annoyed by Tecwen Whittock's coughing. He testified at the trial that he had known the answer to the Googol question himself, having encountered it a couple of times in quizzes before. In his testimony, he made it clear that he was very annoyed by the coughing and that he was displeased by the Major's success with this question. The reason for his suspicions can be detected logically from the elements of this situation. These were that he was annoyed at the coughing; that he was frustrated that he knew the answer to the £1,000,000 question himself but that someone else won the prize money; that the Major had won it through logical deduction and daring rather than through familiarity, so that the witness didn't recognize the means or the method by which the Major won it. This brings the "knowing the answer" and "the coughing" annoyance together in his suspicions.

Another part of the prosecution theory concerned his wife's anxious glances in the direction of the third party, their alleged coughist, which the prosecution interpreted as being her urging him to answer her husband's question for him. Her behaviour was certainly anxious, but the innocent reason for why she repeatedly glanced in his particular direction would have been that, her husband being the source of her anxiety, her friend was the only other person in this strange and stressful situation who offered her a sense of domestic familiarity and emotional stability. That stress was the cause of her behaviour is undeniable because of the backlash that her husband got after the show, when she off-loaded it on to the source of it, namely the intrepid Major.

In fact Mrs Ingram's stress and emotional backlash after the show demonstrates again that there was no such strategy in Major Ingram's performance, especially in relation to the Googol question, because if there had been one then the outcome would show that there was no risk. Her stress was logically caused by the risk to the £468,000 that her husband had already won, and it shows that she had no knowledge of why he was risking this as his reason and his instinct (and his daring) were locked inside his own thoughts at the time. Her stress confirms that he did not cheat.

There is a perfectly innocent explanation for why Major Ingram read out the answers aloud as he considered them, which is firstly, that he was mulling the options over in company; secondly, that he was engaging the audience in his performance and that he recognized his duty to the audience; and thirdly, that he was an army officer and therefore was in the habit of talking while making decisions in the performance of his duties.

A logical examination of the prosecution case shows that it is founded entirely on a lack of intelligence or thought, and that it is based on a failure to recognize these qualities in Major Ingram's performance. In fact the entire case against Major Ingram is an attack against his intelligence by the media and its market.

In any court equation the central factor in the case must be that of motive, and it is necessary to determine on which side of the equation it properly belongs. In this case the motive is given by the prosecution as "greed", though the defendant's risking of £468,000 at the last question suggests that it does not seem to belong on his side of the equation. On the prosecution side it is apparent on several counts. Firstly there is its case against Major Ingram and the withholding of his winnings (greed and cheating), and then it appears on a second count as well, because if greed motivates the contestants on the TV show, then the designers of the show and the perpetrators of this prosecution created that greed. The implication is that the TV company created Major Ingram's greed for the programme and for the prosecution. This leads to another point of hypocrisy which is in the matter of the fraud with which the defendent was charged and robbed of his winnings. There is a fourth apparent hypocrisy, this a professional one, which is that the TV company requires only idiots for its market, and that this contestant did not suit their market.

A prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the case against Major Ingram fails to do this in every particular. All the points of the prosecution case against Major Ingram have an innocent explanation to them which is apparent in the evidence, and only the defendent's case corresponds fully with the evidence.

The judge used the threat of jail to forbid Ingram to defend his case or continue his defence on TV, so that the judge banned him from using the very medium that created his cheat to undo it. The injustice of this arises from two injustices within the trial, the first being the TV company's refusal to pay his winnings on the basis of its cheat theory, and the second being his prosecution for criminal fraud at all, because this prosecution was based on a misuse of the term fraud. It is not in the interests of the nation that a TV company should be allowed to use the criminal courts to protect its game rules, or that it should be allowed to make criminals out of its customers or out of British citizens. Major Ingram was a customer of theirs, and he had responded to the challenge of the quiz along with many others who are tarred with the term "greed" by this company. Any such dispute should be a commercial and civil dispute requiring a public tribunal to determine whether he had found a way round their rules, and if the contestant agreed that it was so, how much he should get in exchange for the information as to how it was done, so that the TV company could prevent it happening again. This would be the honourable outcome. However this would be worthless to the TV company in this case because the contestant evidently did not cheat.

Rippling out naturally from this sequence of injustices is another, because the British Army, on the strength of this conviction, stripped Ingram of the rank that he had earned and the pension that went with it, and threw him out of the Army. The Army Board of Inquiry did not do the job of inquiring into the situation presented to it, and this again continues the theme of lack of intelligence in the case against Major Ingram.

The logical resolution of this case has the fraud and the hypocrisy factor on the prosecution's side of it, and there is no evidence for fraud on the defence side.

Mrs Thatcher's free capitalist social economy has created a society that cannot distinguish between talent and theft, and it errs to the latter.

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