Thursday 28 October 2021
Bobby finds his way back into Kirat’s life, and their relationship grows closer – with devastating consequences. Meanwhile, Alexi investigates the sophistication of the catfishing scam
Gary Marshall – Producer
Claudia Williams – Assistant producer and additional reporting
Karla Patella – Sound design
Basia Cummings – Executive producer
Just a quick heads up before we get started: this episode contains descriptions of coercive control and some strong language.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Did you know anything about this witness protection program that he was in?
Neran: I did actually. Yeah, I did. I thought it was really, really odd. I think it’s like a mafia movie, wasn’t it? It’s like, you know, Goodfellas or something, you know?
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: So this is when the story starts to get weird. Like, really weird.
You remember… in November 2013, Kirat got a message to say that Bobby, this handsome cardiologist she had been speaking to online, had been shot.
He’d gone into a coma and then – a few months later – he’d died.
Well, it turns out, it wasn’t that simple.
Sarah: So it was, kinda like, you’d hear her talk about him a bit, but then because of this whole thing about witness protection, it would go quiet for a long time. And then she wouldn’t hear from him.
Alexi Mostrous: So there was a period when, when Bobby got shot and then he was in a coma…
Alexi Mostrous: … and he started to get better, but then, he died.
Neran: Did he die? Okay. End of act one.
Alexi Mostrous: And then…
Neran: Act two: he comes back alive.
Alexi Mostrous: Three weeks later, yeah, he’s alive because he has been put in witness protection.
Neran: Where was he? Where did he come back?
Alexi Mostrous: In the US.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Bobby wasn’t dead. He was alive. And not only that, he was in witness protection. You know – like in the movies.
Friends of Kirat, like Neran and Sarrah who you’ve just heard, struggle to piece this period in Kirat’s life together. And they’re not the only ones. Even after reading 100s of pages of legal documents, I have trouble navigating this world.
This mix of fact and fiction, fantasy and reality. It can get pretty disorienting. But not for Kirat.
She remembers every detail.
Kirat Assi: One day after Bobby had passed away. It must’ve been about May, April I think. April. Where I had a message from SC, Bobby’s widow…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: By the way, we’re referring to some of these people – like Bobby’s widow – by their initials, for legal reasons.
Kirat Assi: SC who had been told to fly to New York, from Nairobi. So she was in New York and she said to me, I had to know something, but she couldn’t tell me and I had to speak to Simran.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Simran – that’s Kirat’s younger cousin.
Kirat Assi: And I was like, okay, what do I need to know? Not really that I needed to know anything, or, but I was just being there for her. And while I was at work, then about half an hour later or so Simran called me. I remember taking my phone, leaving the office, going out onto the piazza to take the call. And Simran told me that Bobby was actually alive and he’d been in witness protection. Which, which was a bit of a, like, shock, cause he, but he died.
Yeah, I just, just… dumbstruck, speechless.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: By May 2014, the catfisher – the person scamming Kirat online – had brought Bobby back into her life. He’d been resurrected. And this was when the scam really ramped up. The sophistication. The number of characters. And soon, the emotional blackmail. In a few years, the catfisher’s control over Kirat would become almost absolute.
I’m going to tell you exactly how that was able to happen. But to do that, I’m going to take you through what happened from Kirat’s perspective. What she thought was happening. Because I don’t think you can understand exactly how the deception worked unless you put yourself in Kirat’s shoes. And ask yourself – at each stage: what would you do?
I’m Alexi Mostrous. From Tortoise Media. You’re listening to Sweet Bobby.
Episode 2: Witness Protection.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Even after Bobby turned up in New York, it wasn’t like he was the biggest thing in Kirat’s life. She was dating, she was going out. She had her job to think about.
Bobby was more like a crazy story she told her work colleagues. Like… you’re not gonna believe what happened to my friend.
And for a few months it even seemed like Bobby was getting better.
But then he got sick again. Really sick.
And at this point, Kirat felt like she could offer some support.
Kirat Assi: All I know is when somebody is that unwell and when somebody needs your help, you help them.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: There were blood clots, strokes. He was partially paralysed and unable to speak properly. And deep anger – which is actually quite common in patients who’ve been through a trauma.
At one point, Bobby even tried to kill himself. One of the nurses found him just in time. But how did Kirat know all this? Well, Bobby was sending her messages on Facebook, messages like this one:
Bobby, Facebook message: I don’t deserve you guys, so please don’t bother. I do miss you all, but I don’t deserve it.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: But she was also getting regular updates on Bobby’s condition from his friends and his family – as well as his consultants at the hospital. Usually, Kirat would reply with voice notes – short recordings you can send instead of a text message.
Kirat Assi, voice note: Has this all been too much the last couple of days? The last week even?
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And what’s amazing about these voice notes, is we can basically listen in real time to how their relationship unfolded.
Kirat Assi, voice note: I don’t like you feeling like this…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Over the months, Kirat found that she could offer Bobby something they couldn’t. Out of everyone, Bobby seemed to respond best to her.
So she found herself being the one to tell him off if he drank too much. Praying for him before a risky operation. She was slowly becoming Bobby’s crutch.
Kirat Assi, voice note: Something’s bothering you and I can’t work out what it is, and you seem to not be able to work it out either. Are you just not well? Do you just have a bad feeling about something you can’t put your finger on?
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Those first years – 2014 and 2015 – some other weird stuff happened too. Bobby’s wife started acting oddly. She flew over to be by his bedside in New York. And then she disappeared for a few days, before turning up without an explanation.
And Bobby, he started drinking. A lot. Sneaking out of hospital to drink in bars and getting into fights. To Kirat, it seemed almost like he was daring her to give up on him.
Kirat Assi: It was kind of like he was on a vengeful, challenging…like I’m going to kill myself, let’s see what you guys are going to do about it. It was very much that way. That was his mindset. And it was really disturbing.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And this continued. Until one day, about seven months after he returns from the dead, Bobby confesses his feelings for Kirat.
Kirat Assi: So I think somebody has said something that was like, he likes you. I think those hints had been dropped in the past. I needed to deal with stuff. I had a lot going on and he was not well. He just wasn’t in the right state of mind. He didn’t know what he was saying, as far as I was concerned. He was very delicate, you know, fragile, I think we’d had him sectioned in the hospital at one point.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: When I hear Kirat talk like this, it’s so clear to me that she believed in this created world – and to an extent, still does. You can hear it in how she speaks about it, that in her mind, an element of it all is still real.
Kirat Assi: I think I did at some point say it to him that I don’t think you’re, you know, what you’re saying kind of thing. But then I, then I had the whole thing is you belittling my feelings. And you’re just telling me, they’re not real. I am, I do know what I’m saying, kind of thing. And then he started telling me how far back his feelings really went…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: I think it’s worth pointing out something here. Bobby’s declaration of love. That came four years after his first contact with Kirat. This wasn’t some whirlwind love affair. This was a slow burn. Whoever was behind this deceit they were patient.
A few months later, on Valentine’s Day 2015, Kirat and Bobby officially became a couple. And even then, Kirat had reservations.
Kirat Assi: I mean obviously I did have feelings for him. Whether they were the right kind of feelings…question mark. Massive question mark.
Because everybody kept saying it to me and his life expectancy was so short…we knew he wasn’t going to last for months. He could die with this next operation. And so it was a case of he deserves happiness for the time that he’s got left. And it’s not like I can do anything physical with him or anything like that, so I wasn’t worried about that side of things. It was more granting his dying wish in a way? So, I cared about Bobby a lot. I loved him as a friend, as a brother or whatever it was, not as a brother anymore. But what was I going to lose by making a very sick man happy?
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: But the thing, whatever the crisis, Bobby always seemed to pull through. And over time, their relationship developed. And eventually Kirat was won over.
Despite having a boyfriend in hospital in New York with life threatening injuries. Who, remember, she’d only ever met once – back in that Brighton nightclub. And who couldn’t even tell her the name of his doctor for security reasons. Despite all that, Kirat fell head over heels.
Kirat Assi, voice note: You mean everything to me.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: You can hear it in her messages to him at this time. She’s besotted, invested. And listening to them makes me realise that despite all the red flags, and all the obstacles, some part of her just wanted to believe that all of this could have a happy ending.
Kirat Assi, voice note: I love you. I miss you so much today, sweets so much. I really hope you’re not too down.
Bobby, Facebook message: Today I caught myself smiling for no reason, then I realised I was thinking about you.
Bobby, Facebook message: This is torture. I love you so much. Please don’t ever forget.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: I know a few people in long-distance relationships. And it’s not always easy – battling time zones and months apart – but most of them make it work. And even though this was definitely an odd situation, there are parts of it that feel familiar.
Bobby and Kirat would have these long Skype calls, some lasting 13 hours at a time. Bobby and Kirat would login in the evening, talk for a bit, and then fall asleep listening to each other breathe. A friend of mine used to do that actually, with his girlfriend in America.
There was an extra reason too: the Skype calls meant that she could listen out in case Bobby had a medical emergency.
But even as their relationship grew stronger, there was one thing about Bobby’s skype calls that never changed. He never turned his camera on.
Still, it was all, in a very modern way, romantic. If they couldn’t be in the same bedroom then the Skype calls were the closest thing to it. And they had date nights together.
They’d cook a meal and watch The Apprentice on TV. Giggling together on different sides of the Atlantic.Kirat in her bedroom in London. Bobby in a hospital in Manhattan.
During this period Kirat even recorded – and how’s this for devotion – an entire Harry Potter book for Bobby. Just so he had something to listen to .
Kirat Assi, voice recording: Harry heard from Hogwarts one early morning about a week after he arrived at The Burrow. He and Ron…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And they messaged. Constantly. About everything. About buying a house together. About what they would call their children. About what their families would say when they knew. But mostly about when Bobby was finally going to come to the UK.
Kirat Assi, voice note: Stay positive, you know, we’ll be together really soon.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: You see, Bobby kept promising to come home, back to London. He wanted to transfer to a hospital closer to Kirat, where he could restart his medical career as a cardiologist.
Kirat Assi, voice note: Just trying to work out how long it’s going to be before I can see you.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Kirat kept getting excited. This was a voice note she sent to Bobby at the time:
Kirat Assi, voice note: This time in a week you could be here wow… wow.
Kirat Assi, voice note: So I am deciding what I should be wearing to pick you up… oh… I’m so excited.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: But something always got in the way. There was always a reason he couldn’t travel.
Alexi Mostrous: So do you mind starting off just introducing yourself for the podcast telling us who you are, and what kind of work you do.
Jane Monckton Smith: I’m professor of public protection at the University of Gloucestershire. I specialize in coercive control and homicide. My name’s Jane Monckton Smith.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Coercive control is when someone uses threats or manipulation to isolate a victim or take away their independence. And what Bobby was doing was something pretty typical in a controlling relationship. Creating barriers.
Jane Monckton Smith: So in an ordinary relationship, you might meet someone you’re, you know, that thing… oh, love at first sight. That has a shelf life, you know, it develops into something else. It develops into something more grounded, and maybe stronger and more mature. But where there are barriers to the relationship reaching a conclusion that stage can last much, much, much longer. And retain that intensity. It never really gets into that stage where it develops into, you know, a mature, equitable relationship between two people.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Every month that went by the volume of messages from Bobby increased. If Kirat wasn’t actually on her phone, she could hear it buzzing away in her bag or in the car. It was Bobby – making himself heard.
And you might be wondering. Heard how? Because Bobby mostly typed. Yes, he did speak over Skype, but his voice there was just a whisper. One of his operations damaged his vocal cords, he said.
And this year, when Kirat downloaded all her Facebook messages between her and Bobby, it became clearer that this might have been deliberate. This lack of voice. We’ve got literally 1000’s of examples of Kirat’s own voice notes, but none of Bobby’s. Because Skype doesn’t save calls, and he never recorded any voice notes himself.
When I started to wade through this all, I began to wonder how purposeful this had been. Did the person behind the deceit not want their voice preserved?
There is one way you can hear Bobby. It’s through the bleeps of his messages coming in. It’s quite ethereal like something from another world.
Kirat Assi, voice note: …you have to measure it with your thumb first, as long as it’s not a third bigger than my thumb. I have small hands…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Did you hear the bleeps? That’s the catfisher.
Jane Monckton Smith: The relationship between Kirat and Bobby is an unusual one because it wasn’t physical. It wasn’t happening in the real world as it were. This was happening online in a virtual world. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that both Kirat and Bobby were invested in this relationship. Both of them.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: By now, Kirat was really into Bobby. And look – they’re two adults trying to make a relationship work long-distance. And obviously I was wondering about the physical side of things.
Alexi Most: Your relationship with Bobby, um, did develop an intimate side as well…
Kirat: Yeah. As in we had an intimate relationship, but it wasn’t obviously not physical and there was no, um, yeah people like sordid details. But there were no, like, photos or videos or anything. It’s… yeah. So there was nothing like that at all.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: For Kirat having an intimate relationship like this was a really big deal. It took a lot to trust someone in that way.There’s a lot about those early months in Kirat’s relationship – which seem happy. Reading Harry Potter. Having date nights.
But when I tell experts about it, they tell me things that make these events take on a much darker perspective. Because specialists like Jane Monckton Smith recognise that all of this, it’s part of a pattern.
Jane Monckton Smith: So, in coercive control, generally speaking, there is a stage right at the beginning, that in the early relationship – and it’s often referred to as the honeymoon stage – where one, one, or both people will be representing themselves as maybe a little bit different to who they actually are. They’re going to put themselves in the best possible light.
And very controlling people will want to be able to establish their control over a person incredibly quickly. So what they tend to do is bombard the other person with romance and, and love and that kind of thing. Which can be very persuasive can be very persuasive, but they will often pull back all of a sudden to make that person crave the attention again.
So they’ll give them all of this attention, which the person is loving and is producing dopamine and all these wonderful things. Then they’ll just withdraw it. Purposely, purposely. And that person will then do anything for them to crave, to get that attention back again, and that can create a cycle.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And when you take a step back and look at Bobby and Kirat’s relationship from the outside, you can see it. The love-bombing messages. The promises, and the last minute disappointments.
Bobby, Facebook message: I just want to hold you in my arms and never let you go. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, instead I let you down and hurt you badly.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And it only got worse. By the end of 2015, Bobby had become more and more controlling.
Bobby, Facebook message: Why are you studying now, so you get a proper job? Because I’m not like your ex who’ll tolerate you going out?
Kirat Assi: Bobby was always calling me. And it got to the point where like, “I tried to call you, who were you on a call with?” – “Your phone line was busy, who were you talking to?”
He knew everything I did. He knew absolutely everything I did.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Every time Kirat didn’t do exactly what Bobby wanted. Or she questioned the relationship, or something Bobby was telling her. Or even just did something for herself, like, getting her eyebrows threaded without telling him – something would happen. He would freak out. Or even worse, have a stroke, or some sort of medical emergency.
And often, Kirat would be on the other end of the phone when that happened.
Between 2015 and 2018 Bobby went from one health crisis to the next:
Kirat: All these things were constantly happening, he’s had a mini-stroke, he’s had a this. He’s got another clot in his head they need to be operated. And these big things became normal. I can’t keep a track of… I mean it was the norm.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: For Kirat it was terrifying – worrying about, sometimes even listening to, the person she loved jolting from one near-death experience to the next.
Jane Monckton Smith: In a situation that’s only online, your choices are limited aren’t they. And if you really think this person is going to leave. Probably you are going to start panicking, so you do something big and dramatic. I’ve seen in some cases that as somebody’s walking out the door, they will suddenly get a marriage proposal, to bring them back.
If this is happening online, if someone’s having a heart attack. You have distracted them from leaving you. They are not going to leave you now. They are going to get an ambulance, they are going to worry about you. There is going to be follow up – how are you? They have guaranteed contact. Given them time to manipulate the situation back into their hands.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And it wasn’t just the constant emergencies or guilt trips. Bobby got jealous. Like really jealous. Of callers on Kirat’s radio show. Of things she was posting on Facebook…
Bobby, Facebook message: You’re not as innocent as you make yourself out to be. Biggest fucking joke.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: …even of her friends.
Kirat Assi: I wasn’t even allowing my friends to hug me, afraid to hug me, to comfort me. I’d be like just don’t touch me – I belong to Bobby. Because I was scared of what he might think, even though he didn’t know I was there. I just wanted it to be very clear. I wanted the lines to be very clear. I was just so scared of being accused of doing something wrong.
Alexi Mostrous: Did she ever talk to you about any behavior on Bobby’s part that you thought was controlling?
Neran: Yeah I think she did. Now you’re saying it I can remember. Yep. And he was quite controlling and he was quite possessive and I thought that’s a bit odd as well. If he’s not here to see you, why is he controlling? Why is he possessive? Basically, she would dance to his tune, which is really annoying for me. It’s like, who is this guy? You know, to make you, my friend behave in this way. To become so subservient and kind of like, fear. It felt like she was acting at a fear, fear of upsetting him.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: If Bobby didn’t like how she was behaving, he would even threaten to cheat on Kirat with his nurse, a woman called Maria.
Bobby, Facebook message: Fuck it I’m going out with Maria for a walk. Don’t bother calling me tonight. I might be with her.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Pretty soon, Kirat was signed off work because of stress. She lost weight. A lot of it. She stopped talking to her friends. She fell out with Harvey, her best friend. She even quit her beloved radio show.
[Clip: Kirat’s radio show]
Alexi Mostrous: Do you remember when you saw her and you were shocked by how she looked?
Neran: Yeah I was actually shocked at how much weight she lost. She was really thin. And I obviously didn’t want to go on about it but, you don’t want to make her feel conscious about it. But I was like oh my god, she has really lost a lot of weight. Yeah she didn’t look good.
Sarah: You knew she was stressed. You knew she wasn’t eating properly and she would say she’s not eating properly. And it’s the sort of thing like we’d meet up for lunch and I’d be like, Kirat you need to eat more because you’re wasting away.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Some of the stories Kirat tells me… they’re hard to hear. Between 2015 and 2018 particularly Bobby’s control escalated. There was one time, in 2016, when she started getting chest pains, and Bobby pressurised her into having a mammogram to check for cancer.
He was a cardiologist, after all, why wouldn’t she listen to him? And he promised her that he would be there with her in person – in the UK – by the time the appointment came around. So Kirat booked it. But, yet again, Bobby broke his promise. He didn’t get to London in time.
But that wasn’t the worst bit. Kirat went for the appointment on her own, and it was a pretty scary experience. Later, when Bobby heard that her consultant happened to be male – he freaked out. How dare she let another man touch her like that?
By April 2016, Bobby had made no fewer than six promises to Kirat to come to the UK. And all of them… broken. But on the seventh time, he seemed to be serious.
It was now more than a year into their relationship. And Kirat’s family were starting to ask questions. This time – Kirat pulled out all the stops.
Kirat Assi: I bought new things for the house. New bins. Sorted out new cutlery and crockery, totally repainted the kitchen units, stripped them down.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: She arranged to take six weeks off work, most of it unpaid. She even had her bathroom redone – all for Bobby.
Kirat Assi, voice note: I’m a bit mad. But all because of you, baby. It’s not all because of you, but it is because of you… you’re the catalyst.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And then, a few days before Bobby was due to arrive, he picked a fight on the phone.
Kirat Assi: Something wasn’t right. And I just kept saying: what’s wrong?
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: And suddenly, while he was arguing with her, Bobby has a huge heart attack with Kirat on the other end of the line. Then the line goes dead.
Kirat Assi: And I was shaking and I was in tears and I was just screaming for him down the phone and getting nothing back.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Distraught, Kirat rushed home. She threw some clothes in a bag and drove to Heathrow airport. She had to make sure Bobby was OK.
But then, literally as she was at the check in desk, about to book a ticket – one of Bobby’s cousins calls her. An older woman called KB.
Maybe you were in the wrong, KB suggests to Kirat. Bobby was stressed out about coming to see you, she says, and his heart gave out.
In other words, it’s your fault.
Kirat was devastated.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Do you know where the term “catfish” comes from? I’m not talking about what it means here – to trick someone online using fake identities. I’m talking about how it was coined.
I mean, why catfish? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, it comes from a story about fish. And specifically about cod shipped from Alaska to China.
On the way – the cod is kept alive. They’re stored in big tanks on the ship. But, by the time the cod gets to China, the flesh tasted bland and mushy. And it was because they weren’t moving enough. They just hung around in the tank, not doing anything.
And then one fisherman had a genius idea. If he could find a way to keep the cod swimming, then maybe he could improve the taste. So he put a catfish in the tank with the cod. Catfish eat cod. So now, the cod had a reason to swim. And as a result, they stayed fresh.
Now I’ve looked into this story a bit – this “catfish” origin story. And here’s the thing. It sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it. Wouldn’t you just have one massive catfish left in the tank at the end of the trip? And actually, there’s very little evidence to suggest that the story is true.
It actually comes from a documentary filmed in 2010 – the one that eventually became the popular MTV show Catfish. In the film, the husband of a woman who is revealed to be creating all these fake identities online tells the story in order to justify her actions.
What he was saying was – like the catfish – his wife made life more interesting for the people she tricked. So maybe even the term catfish is a type of catfish. A positive spin on a behaviour that can actually have devastating consequences.
Last year a group of US psychologists found that nearly one in four women and one in three men admitted to catfishing online – to one extent or another. Given that 40 per cent of relationships now start online, that’s a lot of potential for harm.
Even though I know that catfishing is a very real problem, that didn’t mean I always found it easy to listen to Kirat’s story. I mean I had a lot of questions. Like, how come Kirat didn’t get suspicious that Bobby had never sent her a video? If Bobby was shot in Kenya, why did he turn up in New York?
Why was he in witness protection in the first place? And why could other people, like his ex-wife, go to see him, but not Kirat. There’s no denying it: there were a lot of holes in this story.
So I was thinking… is Kirat just a bit gullible?
And then I learned more about the scam. How creative it was. The sophistication… it is almost admirable.
I’ll give you one example.
One day, Bobby asked Kirat to help him choose some clothes for his baby son.
Kirat Assi: So we were picking out clothes from Mothercare and things like that and then when pictures had been shared of him, with Bobby, and obviously he then shared them with me of his son. He’d be wearing some of the clothes we picked.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Let’s just talk through what happened. Bobby and Kirat go online to shop for baby clothes. And then a couple of weeks later, Kirat receives some pictures of the babywearing the clothes they’d chosen together. So that must mean that Bobby was real right? Because how could that happen if he wasn’t?
This is always one of the first stories I tell people when I talk about this case. And I think about it a lot because it gives a real insight into the person behind all of this, and how they operate.
Here’s what actually happened. Remember I told you in Episode 1 that Bobby was real. As in, there’s a real Bobby out there who is separate from the character that Kirat was speaking to. Well, the catfisher somehow got access to his photos.
Including a photo of Bobby’s real son, wearing some baby clothes. And somehow they’d manage to work out where these clothes were bought from. And then tricked Kirat into thinking that she had chosen the clothes herself.
The catfisher had reverse engineered the whole thing.There’s a second reason why Kirat was ready to believe Bobby and it’s probably the most important one of all.
As I mentioned in Episode 1, Bobby was far from the only person speaking to Kirat at this point. He was one of a cast of characters. And this cast was made up of dozens of people.
LIke the time when Kirat joined a Facebook group with about 20 members of Bobby’s extended family – some of whom Kirat recognised.
Kirat Assi: You know I was really happy he was doing this obviously because it’s taking the step into introducing him into his family.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Bobby had promised to introduce her, and he said this was a good way of doing it.
Kirat Assi: There were loads of banter and jokes in there about Bobby and his cooking and his behaviour, and the things he’d done and liked in the past…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: .Most of the characters were friendly to Kirat.
Kirat Assi: It was nice, everybody was really nice and warm and welcoming. Apart from one of the sisters in law who is very close with SC. She left the group.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: She was apparently loyal to Bobby’s ex-wife – and didn’t like Kirat for that reason. But she was fake too. They were all fake. The key bit here is that in total dozens of different characters were used to trick Kirat. All of them interacting with each other as if they had autonomous lives.
Some of them totally imagined, some of them based on real people. And the catfisher was behind all of them. These characters, they’d come in and out of Kirat’s life – on and off stage as needed.
But most of the time she was speaking to a much smaller group of people. If you think of the dozens of cousins and their husbands as a supporting cast. There were also the main players. In a film they’d be the stars.
And at any time, Kirat was speaking to about four of them, not including Bobby. There was Bobby’s ex wife, SC. RN, who was also a medic, and who was by Bobby’s bedside for much of his treatment.
KB, an older cousin of Bobby’s, the one who’d talked to Kirat at the airport. And YJ, another cousin, but this time a male and much younger. And they all had very different characters. And they were all constantly texting, messaging and phoning Kirat. Like ALL of the time.
And Kirat would talk to her friends in the real world about Bobby too. Like Neran, and Sarah. Or her cousin Simran. Or Harvey, her best friend.
When I was reading the witness statement, Kirat had to give me an actual spreadsheet to keep up with all these names. So I am certainly not going to expect you to remember all of this.
But the important thing is that all these characters worked together. They existed to confirm each other’s allegations – even when they seemed unbelievable.
In domestic abuse cases, this type of behaviour is called toxic triangulation. Making something seem real by having more than one person tell it.
The catfisher had another tactic too.
Bobby started talking directly to Kirat’s family – like her mum, and her brother – even her cousins. Feeding them snippets of information which they would then tell Kirat. It was a positive reinforcement loop.
Anytime Kirat started to doubt something, someone she trusted told her it was true.
I’ve spent days talking to Kirat about what happened to her. Immersing myself in her relationship with Bobby. But I still only have Kirat’s version of events. And I know I need to speak to the other person at the centre of all this.
I need to speak to the real Bobby. The person whose whole identity had been stolen by the catfisher. Now, I’ve always known there’s a real Bobby and a fake Bobby.
What I still don’t know at this point, is exactly how much the real one knows. What is his role in all this? One of the people I’ve been speaking to during this investigation is a lawyer called Amrit. Amrit’s been helping Kirat, and he also knows bobby.
For weeks I’ve been asking Amrit to pass on a message to Bobby. And finally, one day, he says yes. He tells me he is meeting Bobby in person very soon. He’s not sure exactly when, but says he’ll give me a call as soon as it happens.
And I am nervous… because if Bobby says no then that’s a big part of the puzzle that I’m never going to see. Now, the thing with investigations like this is that nothing ever happens quite how you plan it.
So when Amrit does call me, I’m in a really loud restaurant. And I miss the call. This is so annoying, because I don’t know how many more opportunities I am going to get.
So I try to call Amrit back. But he’s not picking up.
[Clip: call back with no answer]
And then eventually he does.
Alexi Mostrous: Hi!
Amrit: Hi Alexi, sorry about that.
Alexi Mostrous: So you spoke to Bobby?
Amrit: Yeah I spoke to him and his friends. It worked out really well.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: Bobby is – understandably – nervous. But he might be willing to talk. So I call Claudia, part of the team working on this series to let her know.
Alexi Mostrous: So we have to kind of go through some processes. He’s still a bit anxious, so we have to go down to Brighton to see him.
Claudia Williams: That’s amazing and did he give a time frame for this? Is it tomorrow, is it next week…
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: It seems like, step by step, we’re getting closer to Bobby. Back in Kirat’s world. She was also getting closer to Bobby – the fake one.
Kirat Assi: I just wanted him here, and that was kind of the be all and end all. And he seemed to finally understand. And he just said I think this is the way it happened, I hope I am not confusing it, there were so many other times that he said he was coming. But it was a case of literally I need you here and that’s it. And he was like, I’m coming.
Bobby, Facebook message: This is our year. Love you so much.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: By March 2018, three years into their relationship, and 8 years after Kirat first started to speak to Bobby online – he finally arrives in London.
Kirat Assi: So much had happened since the first time he was going to come. And how many times he was going to come. I don’t know how many times he was going to come. I have never counted to be honest.
Alexi Mostrous, narrating: After all those years of broken promises. In Kirat’s mind, at least all that hardship was about to be over.
Next week on Sweet Bobby: a big part of the puzzle falls into place, as the catfisher is revealed.
Alexi Mostrous: Would you characterise the relationship between Bobby and Kirat as a coercive control relationship?
Jane Monckton Smith: I’d characterise it as high risk coercive control.
Alexi Mostrous: What do you mean by high risk?
Jane Monckton Smith: High risk of Kirat suffering some kind of harm. Serious harm.
Alexi Mostrous: And last question, have you ever met, read or come across anyone like [BEEP] ?
Jane Monckton Smith: I think that [BEEP] for me is probably the most invested and obsessive controlling person in this environment that I have seen personally. And think she needs prosecuting, because if everybody thinks this is the end and she will never behave like this again, they’re wrong. She will.
Sweet Bobby was written and reported by me, Alexi Mostrous, produced by Gary Marshall, with additional reporting and production by Claudia Williams. Sound design is by Karla Patella. The executive producer is Basia Cummings.