Ten minutes in Soet Bobby, from the “slow news” organization Tortoise Media, there is a massive spoilage that in theory should blow the wind out of the entire series. This new six-part podcast tells of a scam, but also of a love affair. It is, as presenter and investigative reporter Alexi Mostrous describes it, “a screwed-up, crazy kind of love story filled with death, lies and witness protection programs”. At the center is Kirat, a 30-year-old woman who meets a cardiologist named Bobby online and is manipulated and forced by him for more than 10 years, leading to the loss of her friends and her career. But we soon learn that this man is not who he says he is. While his identity is that of a real person, he is played by a deceiver. He’s actually a catfish – a person who uses a fake online identity.
Soet Bobby is not your regular true crime podcast. To begin with, there is no corpse, which is both a rarity and a relief. More surprising is the question of whether a crime was committed; British legislation is somewhat woolly when it comes to baby fish. But the whodunnit aspect remains, even though Mostrous’ primary concern is not so much “who”, but “how” and “why”.
The first two episodes show us how Kirat got wheeled, and for those of us who can remember a pre-internet era when relationships were personally formed, it’s bitterly fascinating. Bobby’s deception is complex, patient and brave. Important to the scam is that Kirat is part of Britain’s Sikh community, and therefore has a strong network of friends, cousins, aunts and uncles. When he makes contact via Facebook, Bobby immediately refers to members of Kirat’s family, making it easy to earn her trust. Later, he chats online with her parents and shares photos of a baby who appears to be wearing clothes Kirat bought as a gift. So is his dedication to the scam, it takes him four years to explain his feelings to her.
This is an extraordinary story made even more powerful by Mostrous’ empathic and wide-ranging reporting. In addition to talking to Kirat and sifting through several thousand voice notes and messages exchanged between her and Bobby, he also consults psychologists and criminologists. The series not only tells Kirat’s story, but a broader story about the nature of online scams and the psychology of coercion.
Credit also to Tortoise, which is shaping up to be one of the more exciting UK podcast producers, with a small but high quality portfolio including My Mother’s Murder, on the assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and Hidden Murders, on the true toll of domestic abuse against women. It is difficult for any British media network to go against the BBC’s huge output. But if Soet Bobby demonstrate, a carefully crafted, less-is-more approach can bear fruit.