THE makers of TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire have overhauled security procedures amid allegations that a syndicate involving contestants from Northamptonshire gatecrashed their way onto the programme.
A Chronicle & Echo investigation has discovered that Celador, the production company behind the programme, has tightened security after dedicated quiz entrants circulated a list of possible answers to tie-breaker style qualifying questions in return for a percentage of a contestant's winnings.
The syndicate, understood to have been run by quiz buff Paddy Spooner, aimed to exploit the selection procedure and increase the chances of beating 100,000 others in the race to appear on the show.
A number of contestants from the county are thought to have been targeted.
Paul Smith, managing director of Celador Productions, said: "We are aware of Paddy Spooner, and what people similar to him are doing, and we have made a priority of changing our question procedure.
"We are confident we have now made it impossible for anyone to manipulate the system."
The disclosure – which comes in the wake of the fraud conviction of Major Charles Ingram for trying to cheat his way to winning 1 million – has brought to light networks of semi-professional contestants, although there is no indication of anything illegal in their actions.
Daventry-based Millionaire winner Peter MacGibbon, who won 1,000 during his appearance on the show last month, said he was aware of the idea but had not been approached by any syndicate.
He said: "I know suspicion was aroused after four of us from Daventry all appeared on the show in a short space of time. We all know each other and we help each other out with the questions on the phone lines.
"A lot of people keep records of all the qualifying questions and store them on computer spreadsheets so that they can get to them easily when needed and I think that is what formed the basis of the scam."
Click on the next page for moreAttempt to rig TV's Millionaire selection
ATTEMPTS to manipulate the selection procedure for prime time ITV quiz Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? were unmasked as part of the trial of Major Charles Ingram.
The Chronicle & Echo has learned the syndicate accused of fast-tracking contestants on to the show managed to get hold of questions likely to be used on phone lines rung by members of the public.
Potential contestants were then told possible answers in return for a percentage of any future cash winnings.
Details of the scam were revealed in a witness statement submitted to the Ingram trial. Former Millionaire contestant Geoffrey Aquatias, who won 32,000 on the quiz in 1999, told Celador he was approached by a man who sought payment for placing people on the show.
In a separate incident, an anonymous letter sent to Ingram on April 16 this year named two people who were allegedly grooming potential candidates in exchange for half their prize money.
The man understood to have been the brains behind the scheme, Paddy Spooner, shot to fame after he scooped 250,000 on Millionaire in March 2000, less than a year after he walked off with a cheque for $250,000 on the Australian version of the show.
Millionaire rules state that anyone who has appeared once in the hotseat cannot do so again, but they are free to be Phone A Friend helpers for other entrants.
One Northamptonshire winner, Nic Paul of Harpole, has twice been used as a Phone A Friend, first for 250,000 winner Bob Ginger when he was introduced as Nicholas and most recently for Geoff Allcock, when he gave his name as Paul.
Mr Allcock went on to scoop 64,000.
Mr Paul said: "I am not aware of any wrongdoing. The only reason I was called two different names was because that is how I am known by those two people."
He added: "I am aware of Paddy Spooner because he is well-known in Millionaire circles.
"He has written bits in books and on the website, but I have never met him or spoken to him.