Wednesday 8th February 1983 was the day the racehorse Shergar was stolen from its stables at the Ballymany stud in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. At about 8.30 on that winter evening a Ford Granada pulling a horsebox, a van and another car entered the stable yard where Shergar ‘lived’. Two masked and armed men burst into the home of head groom Jim Fitzgerald, locked his family in a downstairs room, and forced him – at gunpoint – to release Shergar from his security protected stable.
There were six raiders in total and they pushed the horse and Jim into a horsebox and drove off. Jim was released four hours later some 40 miles away from the stud farm. The gang told him that they would telephone a ransom demand by lunchtime the next day.
Jim called the police, was picked up and questioned by detectives for several hours before he was released. The police then put listening devices in his home in preparation for the promised telephone call. It was not until the morning of 10th February that a ransom demand was phoned through. £2 million was demanded but, by the end of that day, the ransom figure had dropped to £40,000, the equivalent of £1,000 for each of the 40 shares in the horse. All 34 of the shareholders refused to pay the money on the basis that they wanted to deter future kidnappings. Over the following days there were numerous hoax calls and false alarms received by the police and media about sightings of the horse.
Shergar was never found; the insurers refused to pay out without evidence of the horse’s death; and his kidnappers have never been officially identified. Sean O’Callaghan, a former IRA member turned informer, later wrote in his book ‘The Informer’ that the horse had been killed by its abductors soon after it was taken because they were unable to handle him.
Nicknamed “Shergar – the wonder-horse” after the 1950s film and television ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’, this ‘wonder horse’ had been named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and had retired from racing that same September. Lloyds of London had carried an insurance premium of £300,000 when he was in competition and valued him at £10 million at stud.