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Coughs 'aided Millionaire win'

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LONDON, England -- A British army major cheated his way to the top prize in the British version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" by using a coughing accomplice in the audience, a court was told.

Major Charles Ingram of the Royal Engineers won 1 million ($1.57m) in the popular quiz show but the prize was withheld after program makers became suspicious about a series of coughs they believed might have helped him.

The coughs came at key times when Ingram was stuck over a question and musing out loud over which of the four possible answers he should choose.

Ingram, 39, his wife Diana, 38 and college lecturer Tecwen Whittock, 52 deny charges of conspiracy and "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception."

The jury at Southwark Crown Court in London was shown a videotape of Ingram's appearance on the show, recorded in September 2001.

On the tape, a loud cough from a member of the audience could be heard whenever Ingram appeared to be uncertain whether his answers were right.

There was a total of 19 such coughs on the video, said prosecutor Nicholas Hilliard.

"It appears from that film and the audio that Mr. Ingram was assisted by the cougher," said Hilliard.

Ingram was seen struggling on question eight for 8,000 ($12,600).

Asked who was the second husband of Jacqueline Kennedy, he pondered the four possibilities: Adnan Khashoggi, Ronald Reagan, Aristotle Onassis, or Rupert Murdoch.

On two occasions, when he said the name Aristotle Onassis out loud, a cough was heard on the tape played in court, coming from one of the contestants waiting for their turn at the "fastest finger" round.

The trio were arrested in November 2001 after the program makers Celador Productions became suspicious that Ingram had been helped to win the jackpot and called in police.

Ingram never received the money but has started legal action to recover his prize.

Hilliard noted that according to the show's rules, the only help a contestant was allowed to receive came in the form of three "lifelines": a 50-50 option where two wrong answers are removed from the four options; a phone call to a friend and an appeal to the studio audience as a whole.

"Obviously, one way of increasing your chances of winning would be if you could set up some form of signal from someone else," Hilliard said.

"If they knew the answer and could signal it to you, the contestant, that would obviously be a great help.

"The rules indicate that you must not confer with anyone else to answer questions," Hilliard said.

Ingram, 39, and his wife, 38, appeared in court dressed in black. All three defendants spoke only to confirm their names.

Diana Ingram and her brother Adrian were previous winners on the show taking 32,000 ($50,000) each. She later wrote a book called "Win A Million," based on a theory both she and her brother had used to succeed.

"Millionaire," hosted in Britain by Chris Tarrant, has become one of the television world's most successful formats.

First aired in Britain in September 1998, it has since been broadcast in local versions in more than 100 countries, including the United States.

Since it started, more than 50 people around the world have managed to claim the top prize.

Three Britons have managed the feat: garden designer Judith Keppel was first in November 2000, followed by teacher David Edwards in April 2001 and unemployed banker Robert Brydges in September 2001.

The case is expected to last four weeks.

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