Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist take on Serial podcast, and I respond back to Rabia

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Earlier this week I received the following email from Rabia Chaudry about my essay criticizing Serial from a feminist perspective:

Dear Ann,

I just read your recent blog post and want to bring a couple of things to your attention. First, you are by all means entitled to being offended by my potty mouth, my best friend 25 years ago declared I have Tourettes (clearly I don’t and neither of us even knew what it meant, but it was a way of explaining my proclivity for profanity), and certainly my mouth leaves much to be desired.

That, however, has nothing to do with things called “facts”. The charge that I falsely accused someone of child molestation is, in fact, false. I accurately pointed out that Mr. B was someone who had been accused by his then wife, in public at the mosque, of such acts. I can connect you with her. You know, so you can actually investigate. Attached you’ll find a clip from Susan’s blog noting his arrest. If you’d like the actual report of the arrest, I can connect you with Susan who can provide it. The community had heard of it back in 1999, and had even internally identified the victim, but since it seems it wasn’t prosecuted in exchange for him not testifying in Adnan’s favor, no one ever understood what happened.

I suggest, as “private investigator”, you’d be better served to find out who this man was and whether he had in fact molested a child before defending him. It doesn’t behoove a PI to make pronouncements about anonymous figures. Kind of defeats your purpose.

I am appalled that someone who calls themselves an investigator would find the attention to autopsy reports “ghoulish”. Isn’t the job of an investigator to do exactly that? Find and then analyze the evidence? Instead of talking about the merits of the lividity issue, this is a rhetorical, baseless attack for the sake of — what, blog hits?  If you have issues with the SUBSTANCE of Colin and Susan’s analysis, that would be worthy to see.  Ad hominem attacks are easy, where’s your analysis on these issues?

When cell tower experts from across the country are calling us to say “hey that evidence was totally misused in Adnan’s trial” and medical experts are telling us Hae was not buried for at least 8 hours, would you have us ignore these experts? When the state’s only witness has once again changed his timeline, rendering the state’s use of the cell phone evidence useless, who do we believe now? The State? Jay?

Jay, who in fact has domestic violence charges on his record, perhaps needs a bit more scrutiny. And certainly the man who killed another young woman in a similar fashion six months prior, from the SAME SCHOOL, does too.

As for Imran’s note, I can connect you with him personally and you can ask about it. If it had any merit at all, the police and prosecution would have used it.

Lastly, as for the Baltimore City Police conduct, you may want to revisit much that’s been written about their corruption, take note of the pending DOJ investigation, and take a listen to our upcoming episode on Monday.

Best,

Here is my reply:

First off, let me get this out of the way. I’m not personally offended by your potty mouth, Rabia. I mentioned it as an example of why you’re a polarizing figure. Some people love a feisty woman keeping it real as she drops F-bombs in the fight against injustice. Others not so much. As I see it, the swearing is just how you roll.

Since you wrote me a frank email, I’m going to give you my honest answers. I’m also going to try really hard not to confuse people who aren’t up on every detail of this case while, at the same time, adding some background to my original blog essay.

The Adnan critic I referred to, who was accused of being a child molester by your friends, was sachabacha. He was attacked on Reddit after he posted anonymously there — making the allegation, later verified by Serial, that Adnan stole from the mosque, and another accusation, not featured on Serial, that Adnan’s brother had called him a “masterful liar.” This resulted in a vicious pile-on designed to shut sachabacha down.

sachabachaaccusedof beingBilal

On Reddit, Rabia and co. originally accused sachabacha, a mosque insider, of being Bilal, an alleged child molester. Above is a deleted quote from Adnan’s brother, Yusef.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Rabia, but I think it’s conceded now that sachabacha is not nor never was Bilal, so the ugly accusations levelled against him, by Adnan’s brother and others, were completely out of line. Luckily for sachabacha, he’s just an anonymous internet person because your crowd has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan.

Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder.

Perilsoffingerpointing

The problem at the heart of Serial

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this finger pointing at innocent people is your fault, Rabia. People are going to do stupid things and you can’t stop that or be held responsible for every idiot on the internet, but if Saad were my little brother, I would have had a word with him. And if I were you, I also wouldn’t be praising Susan Simpson for her irresponsible exposure of Don’s completely irrelevant employment records.

You and Simpson both say you believe Don’s innocent and then you send out tweets like this. Sure, your official line for putting confidential information about him on the internet is that these were documents filed in court and you need to show that the police were lax in their investigation of Don. Well, in answer to point one, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Here’s an NYT article on the problem with people posting documents from court cases on the internet. And two, Simpson has in no way established that the police did not properly investigate Don. They interviewed him multiple times, they searched his home and workplace, they checked his alibi. (Unlike Adnan, he actually had an alibi.) It’s just ridiculous to argue they should have investigated him more because he had some bad employee reviews. The police do not have unlimited resources and they had a far more likely suspect in Adnan Syed.

Dragging Don through the mud was the example I originally gave of Simpson crossing ethical boundaries yet you accused me of launching baseless ad hominem attacks on her and Colin MIller to get blog hits. Well, yes, I am a journalist so I do want my work to get read, but my critiques were neither baseless nor ad hominem. And since you asked, I’m happy to elaborate on Simpson’s and MIller’s bad habits.

Let’s start with Simpson who specializes in producing reams of irrelevant data, can’t see the forest for the trees, and doesn’t recognize the difference between an assumption and a fact. Here’s a classic example of the latter from one of her first Serial blog posts. For some reason she can’t wrap her head around the idea that Jay might have noticed that Hae’s corpse had no shoes. To show how preposterous this is, she writes:

Sure. Some time during Jay and Adnan’s post-murder road trip through western Baltimore, Adnan could have turned to Jay and said, “By the way, I’m leaving Hae’s shoes in her car.” But does that really sound plausible? Adnan told Jay about what he had decided to do with Hae’s shoes? Of all the things they could talk about, of all the things Adnan might have told Jay, one of them was, “Oh by the way, Hae’s shoes are in her car”? Of course, there’s another explanation for why Jay knows where Hae’s shoes were left. Because he’s the one that left them there. And saying “Adnan told me” is simply Jay’s way of answering everything every question the detectives ask about things only Adnan should have knowledge of.

Do you follow the lack of logic there? In Simpson’s opinion, it’s crazy that Jay would have known about Hae’s shoes therefore Jay was involved in murdering Hae. Not just as an accessory after the fact but as something more. This is a completely unjustified accusation based on a flawed leap of logic. What’s more, this type of magical transformation of assumption into fact happens multiple times in every one of her blog posts  as well as on Undisclosed.

Here’s a more recent example from your podcast. Simpson believes that Cathy has the day that Adnan visited her house wrong, which is important because it’s also the day of the murder. Cathy says she remembers it was that specific day because she went to a conference. Simpson finds a “workshop” related to Cathy’s field of study that  took place on a different day. She assumes, based on nothing, that Cathy must have been confused and attended this other workshop aka conference on another day. The Undisclosed crew declares Cathy is wrong. Again, an assumption is transformed into a fact.

You mentioned I’m a private investigator. I am and I’m also a journalist who writes about crime and courts. One of the things I’ve learned over decades in this business is that when you test your beautifully imagined and constructed theories in the real world, you often find out they’re wrong because people will give you facts and evidence that contradict them. Maybe, unbeknownst to Simpson, Cathy’s conference on January 13, 1999 was written in her diary. Maybe Cristina Gutierrez and her investigator double checked Cathy’s alibi because at trial Adnan’s lawyer references the building in which the conference was held. Maybe the prosecution checked it too, as is standard practice, because you don’t want your key witnesses blowing up on the stand. Maybe Simpson needs to actually talk to Cathy before declaring her a muddled mixer-upper who testified incorrectly 16 years ago.

But enough about Simpson. Let’s talk about Evidence Prof Colin Miller. You’re miffed that I called him ghoulish. Well, frankly, I thought it was better than creepy, which I also considered. You also suggest that I shouldn’t criticize him for investigating autopsy reports and analyzing the evidence. I actually have no problem with Miller playing amateur coroner if that’s his thing. My problem is with him posting his half-baked theories on the internet.

Although you chose to ignore it, I did explain in my essay that the issue with Miller’s blog posts is that there is no purpose to them. Take the one devoted to explaining why Hae’s head injuries demonstrate she couldn’t have been killed in the driver’s seat. In the prosecution’s closing arguments Kathleen Murphy argues that Hae was killed in the passenger seat. It’s only Jay, who wasn’t even there, who says Adnan told him Hae was killed in the driver’s seat. Basically the whole post, like all his other gruesome autopsy posts, is beside the point.

If this is some kind of intellectual exercise for Miller, he should go do it in privacy of his basement. Unless he reveals truly exculpatory evidence, there is simply no justification for putting this type of post on the internet without the permission and blessing of Hae’s family. It’s disrespectful and a violation of a murdered girl’s privacy in every possible way.

The other point that I should make while I am on the subject of Miller and Simpson is that the forensic evidence they discuss is open to interpretation. Their MO is to suggest an improbable hypothetical and show that it’s possible. They then try to demonstrate, unconvincingly, that the prosecution’s version of events must be wrong and theirs must be right. Sometimes, they even drag an expert in to help, which ultimately ends in a case of which lividity or cell phone expert are you going to believe?  The whole exercise is futile and irrelevant. One expert’s interpretation of complex data is not going to spring Adnan from jail. Once a jury of your peers has found you guilty of murder and the appeals court has rejected all but your very last avenue of appeal, you need to find either a large legal loophole or major evidence that proves you innocent. Nothing else matters no matter how many supposedly fishy red herrings Simpson and Miller spot.

Unfortunately for Adnan, he’s been looking for that elusive proof of his innocence for 16 years with no success at all. Even now, with the Innocence Project and This American Life on his side, no one can suggest a remotely plausible version of who killed Hae Min Lee other than Adnan Syed. Your email suggests, Rabia, that you’re grasping at the straw that it was Roy Sharonnie Davis who strangled another Woodlawn high school student in 1998 but wasn’t convicted until 2004 on the basis of DNA. (Not to be confused with Deirdre Enright’s Ronald Lee Moore straw.)

Enright's pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae's killer. Chaudry thinks it's more likely Roy Sharronie Davis. I think it's neither.

Enright’s pinning her hopes on Ronald Lee Moore (above) as Hae’s killer. Chaudry thinks it’s more likely Roy Sharonnie Davis. I think it’s neither.

The big problem with yours and Deirdre Enright’s third party theories is that there’s zero reason for Jay to be protecting some loser serial killer, be it Roy or Ronald, and even less reason for the cops to be framing Adnan and Jay to protect said serial killer. Not to mention that it’s highly unlikely that, after 16 years, nothing about this would have come to light. People almost always talk and this is exactly the stuff that lowlifes talk about.

Rabia, you make a big deal about how Jay’s a lying liar, which he is, but I’ve got to tell you that I find Jay a whole lot more credible than Adnan, who’s also been lying from the very beginning. On the day Hae disappeared, he told the police he asked her for a ride. Then he said he didn’t. Then he couldn’t remember the day at all, claiming it was just a regular day six weeks ago even though it was the very unregular day the police contacted him about his ex-girlfriend, who he had called three times the night before. And on and on.

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

One week after Hae disappeared and five weeks before her body was found, Adnan’s friend Imran wrote this email

Which brings us to the police. You ask me to believe the police didn’t think Imran’s email was important because they didn’t use it in court. Say what? Now, I’m supposed to put my faith in those same bumbling police who didn’t investigate  Don properly and used Jay to frame Adnan to protect some rando serial killer. The same police you accused of corruption on your last episode of Undisclosed?

Rabia, I’m not naive about police. In my work, I criticize them when they deserve it and praise them when they do a good job. I’ve watched The Wire and read David Simon’s Homicide, which BTW features some good and dedicated Baltimore cops. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary engaged in any kind of misconduct whatsoever. Sarah Koenig said they both had good reputations. Jim Trainum said the Hae Min Lee investigation was above average and that they investigated three suspects. Ritz told Koenig that, knowing that Jay was a liar, they corroborated every part of his story.

Unlike most people on the #FreeAdnan boards, I’ve also actually read those court cases involving Ritz that keep getting cited as proof that he’s the devil incarnate. In the Mable case, Ritz was one of dozens of people being sued: Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.15.44 PM It was a civil case which never even made it to the discovery phase before the plaintiff dropped out so we have no idea how Ritz would have responded. Then there was another case where Ritz is mentioned in passing for using an interview technique practised by police forces across the country until the courts ordered it modified. That hardly sounds like a black mark agains his character. And most recently, another civil case came out, where Ritz has yet to respond to the allegations against him. Screen shot 2015-05-16 at 3.25.43 PM So what to make of all this? It doesn’t strike me as at all out of the ordinary that a homicide cop in Baltimore would be named in a handful of lawsuits after decades of service. It comes with the territory just like getting snarked on by Susan Simpson. In the name of balance though, you might also want to consider this Baltimore Sun article about Ritz raising money for a child abuse center:

“He solicits all the golfers single-handedly and all the donations single-handedly,” said Ritz’s son, William. “He talks about it all year long, and then he stresses about it the last couple of months leading up to it.” Sometimes, like in police work, his diligence comes at the expense of his health. Last year, while canvassing Inner Harbor businesses for tournament sponsors and after working nearly 36 hours straight on cases, Ritz, physically spent, passed out on the street outside Power Plant Live. He regained consciousness as a few pedestrians helped him to his feet. But rather than seek immediate medical attention, he brushed himself off and headed home, only to continue fundraising later. (He subsequently sought medical attention.)

When I listened to Ritz on the latest episode of Undisclosed, I was struck by how much he sounded like a decent guy, unable to comprehend Jenn’s callous reaction to Hae’s death and Adnan’s plan to kill her. He had the same disbelieving reaction to Jay in episode one of Serial, asking him why he didn’t try to stop Adnan. Where you, Rabia, hear taps and rustling papers and conspiratorial corruption, I hear veteran homicide cops blown away by the casual cruelty and immorality of these kids. Imran’s awful email was yet another example. Hae’s life meant so little to Jay, Jenn and Imran. And to Adnan, who actually killed her.

In her attempt to explain away the Imran email, Simpson told a convoluted tale of two Imrans, claiming erroneously that the writer wasn’t really Adnan’s good friend but another Imran altogether. This is a perfect example of tunnel vision.  Imran’s email looks bad for Adnan so Simpson dismisses it and, worse yet, starts making stuff up to fit her Adnan is innocent theory.

Thanks for offering to put me in touch with Imran H, Rabia. If the offer still stands after this article, I would love to take you up on it. I would like to hear why he wrote what he did and see the apology email he’s rumoured to have sent. I’m a believer in redemption. It’s one of the reasons I feel far more sympathetic to Jay than Adnan — because Jay actually owned up to what he did. While I wish he had gone to jail for his part in the crime, he didn’t so time to let it go. As far as I’m concerned Jay has paid his debt to society. What’s more he’s apologized and shown remorse.

You mention the domestic assault charges he later faced, and say they deserve more scrutiny despite being dropped. You are right that we absolutely do need to hear his ex-girlfriend’s side of things before swallowing the explanation he gave the Intercept.

Since I wrote my essay, there have been more than 500 comments about it. A number of people agreed with me that Sarah Koenig was indeed wrong to brush off well- documented warning signs of intimate partner violence, but argued that wasn’t proof Adnan killed Hae. They were right, of course, but my essay wasn’t about laying out the entire case against Adnan. It was about the oddness of Koenig’s unfeminist ouevre being so lauded at this particular point in time, where we are supposedly so concerned about women’s issues.

So, for the record, let me tell you why I’m convinced Adnan is guilty.

  1. Adnan should remember what happened on that very un-normal day. He was called by police the same day his ex-girlfriend disappeared. He was interviewed by police two weeks later. The whole “I can’t remember that normal day six weeks ago” schtick is total BS. And Koenig was a sucker for believing it. There is no good explanation for why Adnan has no alibi. He was aware the day Hae went missing something was seriously wrong.
  2. Jay has no reason for framing Adnan nor does anyone else let alone Roy Sharonnie Davis or Ronald Lee Moore, who, between the two of them, probably have the combined IQ of a cactus plant.
  3. Adnan has no explanation whatsoever as to how he landed in this position. Yes, I know Deirdre Enright said innocent people often can’t help their case. But she was talking about not being able to find a body in a field as opposed to having no idea whatsoever why your buddy Jay might want to frame you for murder. People who work with killers will also tell you that this vaguey-vague “someone must have framed me but I don’t know why” explanation is a pretty common one among the guilty.
  4. Adnan has consistently lied about how people reacted to Hae’s disppearance, claiming it was no big deal, which is completely implausible. Hae had a new a boyfriend, a class trip to France booked, and university to look forward to. There was no way she’d take off to California in the middle of her senior year.
  5. Adnan’s good friend Imran appears to have been actively trying to discourage Hae’s California friends from looking for her a week after her disappearance, when, according to Adnan, no one was concerned she was gone.
  6. Adnan had no reason for lending Jay his car. The idea that he was concerned about Jay getting a birthday present for Stephanie is laughable.
  7. Adnan lied about asking Hae for a ride, contradicting the testimony of Krista and Debbie.
  8. Adnan wrote “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae telling him to back off. (If you think that’s no biggie, let me know how you feel about it when you see your daughters writing a note like that and then discover the recipient’s decorated it with “I’m going to kill.”)
  9. Adnan exhibited other stalkery behaviour towards Hae. She hid from him at school and wrote in her diary that he was possessive.
  10. Adnan never tried to contact Hae after January 13th even though he called her three times the night before.
  11. There is no explanation for the Nisha call other than an improbable butt dial.
  12. Adnan’s cell phone records place him in Leakin Park burying Hae’s body.

So that’s it for now, Rabia, 12 points and counting. I’ve probably left something off the list and if I remember it, I’ll add it later. But the bottom line is, just like the jury, I’m convinced way beyond a reasonable doubt that your guy is guilty.

If you ever find some evidence that shows I’m wrong — like the stuff you said a while back that your PI has dug up — let me know. Likewise, if  Adnan decides to admit to his crime, show remorse and ask for forgiveness, I’d like to hear.

Otherwise Rabia, I don’t think this is a gulf that can be crossed. I just can’t get behind the campaign to free a guy who killed his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend and has never once said he feels a single bit of remorse.

There was no miscarriage of justice in the case of Adnan Syed. The fact that he’s in jail is justice.

Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

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We are in the middle of what, for lack of a better description, I will call a radical feminist moment. Not a day goes by without some poor soul being shamed on the internet for a multitude of sins ranging from mansplaining and manspreading to making us all live in a rape culture and depriving women of jobs in the gaming industry.

Yet right in the middle of this media-fuelled, girl-power moment, something inexplicable has happened. It is Serial, last year’s blockbuster of a podcast all about loveable, enigmatic Adnan Syed, who back in 1999 murdered Hae Min Lee, the 18-year-old girl, who had just dumped him. Serial, which led many people to conclude — despite piles of evidence to the contrary — that Adnan did not receive a fair trial, was brought to you not by the usual misogynists and rape apologists but by the impeccably liberal staff of This American Life. It was fronted by Sarah Koenig, radio reporter and earth mother extraordinaire.

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Sarah Koenig consistently minimized the warning signs of intimate partner violence, including Adnan Syed’s writing “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae Min Lee telling him to back off.

As I write (April 20, 2015), the accolades for Serial’s innovative investigative journalism keep rolling in. Earlier today it was announced that it had won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting and last week Koenig was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2014. When she isn’t working on the next season of Serial, Koenig’s out being fêted on the speaker circuit. Mysteriously, there are no trigger warnings and calls for safe spaces when Koenig arrives on campus despite her iffy perspective on the very sensitive subject of intimate partner violence.

As an example, consider that in November 1998, two months before she was strangled to death, Hae Min Lee wrote a break-up note to Adnan Syed telling him to move on, accept her decision to end their relationship, and to “hate me if you will.” On the back of this note, Adnan Syed wrote: “I’m going to kill.” The police found the note when they searched the Syeds’ house after his arrest.

Koenig waved this all away, describing it as “a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel” and a “stray thing” that could be meaningless. Too bad that we’re talking about real life here and Hae Min Lee did, you know, actually turn up dead. But then Koenig also managed to overlook the fact that Hae asked a teacher to help her hide from Adnan and that, in her diary, she described her ex-boyfriend’s possessiveness as a problem, a direct contradiction of what was said on the podcast.

Teacher testimony transcript Hae hides from Adnan

Teacher Hope Schab helped Hae hide from Adnan but this was never mentioned on Serial. (Trial 1 transcript)

Yet despite Koenig’s consistent minimization of incidents that are classic warning signs of intimate partner violence, there has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten.

Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.”

I’m not sure, however, that Koenig would have gotten away with the rehabilitation of Adnan Syed, had she not been aided and abetted by the Innocence Project — an organization that pre-podcast I had always respected, but about which I now, to borrow a handy expression from the Serial songbook, nurse some pretty serious doubts. Deirdre Enright, director of investigations for its University of Virginia law school branch, deals a serious blow to Innocence Project credibility every time she opens her mouth about Adnan.

Take, for example, the final episode of Serial in which she asks Koenig: “What makes mores sense? That little 17-year-old, never-been-in-trouble-with-the-law Adnan killed someone or that Ronald Moore, rapist and murderer who got out of prison 13 days before Hae disappeared, that he killed someone?”

“Right, I know,” says a dumbfounded Koenig instead of, “Hold on a minute there, Deirdre. Isn’t it way more likely that a woman will be murdered by her intimate partner as opposed to some random serial killer? And BTW, how does Jay fit into your wild third party strangler theory?”

Oh wait, Koenig did actually ask about Jay and here’s what Enright replied:  “Big picture Sarah, big picture.” The big picture, to put it bluntly, is that Enright is talking like a freaking crazy lady, and if it weren’t for her impressive credentials, no one would be paying the slightest bit of attention to her theories. Emperor, new clothes and all that.

Which brings me to still more lawyers spouting nonsense — Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, who have been keeping Adnan Syed’s story in the news since Serial ended. Their new Undisclosed podcast made its debut last week, burning its way up the iTunes charts.

As a result of their newfound status as quasi public figures, the Undisclosed lawyers have come in for quite a bit of criticism, some of which is crazy and unhinged, and has, of course, been chronicled in the media. What the MSM fails to mention, however, is that these lawyers have, in a number of instances, demonstrated a startling lack of respect for ethical boundaries.

Chaudry, a polarizing figure with a potty mouth, set the tone right at the beginning of Serial when she and her gang accused an Adnan-critic from the Baltimore Muslim community of being a child molester.

Simpson is more cautious, sticking to innuendo and classic just-asking-questions tactics. She recently published the unflattering employment records of Hae’s last boyfriend Don in a misguided attempt to show police hadn’t done their job (sorry, I don’t want to link to this one), all the while conceding Don didn’t do it. So what’s her excuse for dragging him through the online mud 16 years later then? It’s to make one of her hallmark illogical points — that the police should have devoted more time to investigating an innocent dude.

Miller, meanwhile, has been ghoulishly poring over autopsy reports, a subject in which he has zero scientific training, and talking to “experts” apparently unwilling to attach their names* to his tenuous theories that prove nothing. I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever spared a thought for how Hae’s family might feel about his futile ramblings over her corpse.

Perhaps it’s just coincidence but the debut of Undisclosed and the latest round of Serial plaudits coincided with the arrival on the internet of various documents discrediting the #FreeAdnan movement. Over the weekend, an email written by Adnan’s good high school friend, Imran, made its way on to Reddit. It shows that one week after Hae’s disappearance, before anyone knew she was dead, Imran wrote to a friend of Hae’s in California, who was concerned about her:

Imran email re death of Hae Min Lee

On her blog, Rabia Chaudry brushed this highly troubling email off as a “sick joke.” Other Adnan supporters, a number of whom remain Facebook friends with Imran, also dismiss it as a failed attempt at humour, the type of thing crazy teenagers do — just like Adnan writing “I’m going to kill” on a note from Hae. It’s not clear whether Sarah Koenig ever saw the email although I’ve been told but can’t confirm that Imran was one of the people she interviewed in the Rumours episode of Serial. Imran did not respond to my requests for an interview.

As someone who doesn’t think your average teen is down with joking about a friend’s death, I’m going to suggest a non-humourous interpretation of this callous misogyny: Imran, an Adnan acolyte who doesn’t seem at all moved by the gruesome murder he describes, was clumsily trying to help with a cover-up. I would further suggest that my theory is supported by the fact that after Adnan is arrested, Asia McClain — who is being touted by #FreeAdnan as their new star witness — describes Emron (sic) as upset and looking like “crap.”

Evidently the much maligned police — who Simpson and Chaudry constantly accuse of failing to do their job — were concerned enough about this email to subpoena information about the IP address from which it was sent in an effort to confirm the identity of the sender. That’s a strong indication they didn’t believe it was a joke but rather potential evidence.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone able to confront facts that the Imran email undermines the whole premise of Serial’s first episode, that Adnan couldn’t remember January 13, 1999, the day of Hae’s murder, because for him it was just another regular day in the distant, six-weeks-ago past. The email shows that, as far away as California, friends were talking about what had happened to Hae and trying to get information. No one was blowing off her disappearance as Adnan preposterously claimed to Sarah Koenig in Serial and she audibly nodded along.

As more and more non-Serial sanctioned information comes to light, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the  #FreeAdnan movement is little more than a collection of useful idiots fooled into fighting against an imaginary miscarriage of justice. Their goal is to spring from prison the remorseless killer of a young woman, who had her whole life ahead of her until Adnan Syed stole it away.

Amidst all the publicity and noise, it’s important to remember that Serial is not the new Thin Blue Line and never will be. The right man is behind bars and that’s a good thing, no matter what Adnan Syed supporters want to talk themselves into believing.

 


Read Rabia Chaudry’s response to this essay and my response to Rabia.

*The day after I published this post, Colin Miller quoted his first and only named expert in months of ghoul blogging. Probably just a coincidence.

May 9 Update: This article got linked on Reddit yesterday and has generated a lively discussion.

Avoid guys like Adnan. Read The Gift of Fear and then pass it on. It’s a great book:

Spectator challenge of secret Bosma trial proceedings set for April 7

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Dear readers,

I’m preparing a short article on the upcoming challenge by the Hamilton Spectator to the secret court proceedings taking place with regard to the Tim Bosma trial.

The court inexplicably went in camera on February 23rd and two more in camera sessions are slated for April 30 and May 1.

The Spectator‘s challenge is scheduled to take place on April 7. If it succeeds, the court dates — which appear to be pre-trial motions — should go ahead covered by a standard publication ban.

I’ve had a number of lawyers, who know I follow the Tim Bosma case, ask me if I have any idea what’s going on there. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are gobsmacked by the situation, which everyone describes as highly unusual.

I may also stop by the Jane and Finch courthouse again to see the continuation of Matthew Ward-Jackson’s preliminary hearing for his January 2014 drugs and weapons charges. In January of this year, Joseph Michael Horth pleaded guilty and is now awaiting a Gladue report and a sentencing date. Ward-Jackson aka Big Iisho aka Krucifix14 intends to plead not guilty and has chosen a jury trial.

Charges against the five other people accused in the same raid were all dropped last year. The seven were arrested while partying with Ward-Jackson and helping to put the finishing touches on his Red Shoes rap video. The lawyer for the videographer said last summer that his client is not planning on making any more rap videos. It’s all Sweet Sixteens and weddings from now on. Probably a smart move.

What a rape trial looks like: Inside the court room in 8 parts (at least)

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The Walrus magazine is running my series about a criminal rape trial that took place in Toronto in December 2014. The trial lasted eight days and the judge announced his verdict earlier this month.

At the time of the actions that led to the criminal charges, the female accuser was just seventeen years old, entering her final year of study at a Toronto high school. The male defendant was a year older, a star athlete on his way to winning a scholarship to a US college.


“I said, ‘Stop, you’re being ridiculous.’ I kept repeating stop. I asked him, ‘Please take me home.’ He said, ‘You want it,’ and put the passenger seat back.”


She had substantial credibility problems on the witness stand. His testimony seemed far more convincing—most of the time. But this was more than just a “she said, he said”—or, as it turned out, “she lied, he lied”—case. There was an element of physical evidence against him: bruises on her arms and legs. The judge had to decide if the totality of the prosecutors’ case against the defendant was enough to send him to jail, brand him a sexual offender, and destroy his promising future.

Despite its sensational nature, this was a case that never made headlines. What I observed during my reporting was the farthest thing from a Jian Ghomeshi courthouse scene, with mobs of press and police. I was the sole reporter at the superior court trial and, on most days, the only observer not directly related to the case. The mother and grandmother of the accused, whom I will call Matthew in the reports that follow, attended throughout the trial. The complainant, who will be known as Ava, was supported by a representative from victim services and the detective in charge of her case.


“You left your panties behind,” says the defence lawyer, who reminds me of Matlock.  “No I did not,” replies the weeping complainant


Ava’s family and Matthew’s father were not permitted in the courtroom as they were all considered to be potential witnesses. They spent much of their time in the courthouse hallways, pacing or sitting nervously. Like everyone else, they knew that the events unfolding on the other side of the courtroom door would deeply affect the two young people’s lives.

Part 1: She Said
Part 2: Are You Sure?
Part 3: Can the Complainant Continue?
Part 4: The Facebook Test
Part 5: He Said
Part 6: “I’m Not a Rapist”
Part 7: Closing Arguments
Part 8: The Verdict

Interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning about the series

This is a long story and, taking a leaf from the podcast Serial, it’s being rolled out in instalments it ran in instalments.


The complainant is reporting someone to the judge for making faces in court. “It was the girl with black hair,” she tells Justice Trotter, referring to the mother of the accused


I hope you’ll follow the story and if you have any questions, feel free to pose them in the comments. I promise to get back to you.

Jeffrey Boucher family marks one-year anniversary of his death and disappearance

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Jeffrey Boucher, his wife Kirsten and daughters Bettina (left) and Katja cycled the world.

Jeffrey Boucher, his wife Kirsten and daughters Bettina (left) and Katja cycled the world.

Parvaneh Pessian of Whitby This Week has an excellent update on the very sad story of Jeffrey Boucher on the one year anniversary of his death. She interviews Boucher’s widow Kirsten and his younger daughter Bettina, who are both still trying to come to terms with a death, about which they have few answers.

Police ruled out foul play after they found Boucher’s body on the shores of Lake Ontario last March, but it’s not clear whether he died by accident or suicide. The autopsy and toxicology report provided no answers.

Kirsten Boucher, who has always maintained her husband wouldn’t commit suicide, sees some parallels between his death and that of another Toronto-area teacher, Douglas Queen. Queen was sent home from his school one morning last March after a baseless accusation that he had pushed a student. He went to the Humber Bay Park on the waterfront.

“What happened next is not known for certain, but the coroner’s report suggests Mr. Queen slipped on the ice and hit the right side of his forehead on a rock,” said the Globe and Mail. “Presumably unconscious, he tumbled into the lake, and drowned in a few feet of water. The coroner states conclusively that his death was not a suicide.”

Kirsten Boucher can envision a similar scenario involving her husband, who had also been involved in an incident at his school that both the police and the school board have always insisted was minor. Some money for an upcoming school ski trip had been found in Jeffrey Boucher’s desk after he asked a janitor to help him open a jammed drawer. Kirsten has repeatedly said she finds it strange her husband didn’t mention the incident to her, but she has not pressed the school for details.

A high school teacher like her husband, she has not returned to work since Jeff’s death.

My ebook, The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher, explores what happened to the missing runner.

 

Tim Bosma murder case: Trial dates set for Dellen Millard, Mark Smich

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Feb. 25 Update: The trial has now been postponed until January 11, 2016. As of today, Dellen Millard has not yet officially retained either Deepak Paradkar or Ravin Pillay, the two lawyers who have been acting on his behalf.


 

Just before Christmas, the Hamilton Spectator reported that tentative trial dates have been set for Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, who have been accused, among other things, of the murder of Tim Bosma.

The long-awaited Bosma trial is pencilled in to begin on Sept. 28, 2015 and run some four months.

Millard and Smich have also been accused of murdering Laura Babcock while Millard alone is charged with killing his father Wayne. Last I heard some two months ago, the Crown was seeking a direct indictment in the Babcock case, but as of now it has not been granted. Millard and Smich are pleading not guilty on all counts and none of the allegations against them have been proven in court.

My ebook about the Bosma, Babcock and Wayne Millard murders got put on hold late last year due to some other projects, however, it’s back to being a top priority and I hope to get it out later this month. The ebook includes letters written by Dellen Millard from jail. Here’s part of one letter from almost a year ago, January 22, 2014:

So, time drags on. Nothing’s happening with the case. I’m essentially waiting in a nine month queue.

Yesterday one of the guards brought me a cup of freshly poured cola. It was a wonderful treat, and exactly how colas ought to be enjoyed; rarely. A few of the guards are nice to me like that. They are the ones that believe I am not guilty.

I’ve been exercising a little more. Staying motivated in here has been tough. I’ve tried all sorts of different routines. It seems that circuits are what I’m willing to stick with. Which is odd because, I never used to like circuit training. I still do yoga every evening as well.

When I wrote that I could never find Armani that fit, you pronounced that I am out of touch with fashion. It is true that I believe form follows function. But, I thought to check out the fashion section in the paper. You know, get in touch with fashion, maybe find something to wear to court. I recognized the name Alexander McQueen, and he’s doing plad (sic). I like plad (sic), although I prefer blue and green plad (sic) over black. Still what do you think of the included clipping?

In non-Millard-related news, I also have a huge feature about a sexual assault case coming up later this month. It’s about two kids who were 17 and 18 at the time of the alleged rape. The case is a classic he said, she said — except for the fact that she is far less credible on the witness stand than he is. She does, however, have one very damning piece of evidence on her side — bruises on her arms and legs.

The verdict for this judge-alone trial will be coming down later this month. Essentially, the judge will decide if those bruises are enough to send the accused to jail, brand him a sexual offender and destroy his promising future. He is currently on a full athletic scholarship to a U.S. college, which he will lose if found guilty.

The trial was both sad and fascinating, the furthest thing possible from a Jian Ghomeshi courthouse scene with mobs of press and police. I was the only person there not directly related to the case.

Stay tuned and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. It looks like 2015 will be a very busy year.

BTW, happy new year everyone.

Triple threat: Matthew Ward-Jackson, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich at the Jane and Finch courthouse

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No Moët  and hoes for Matthew Ward-Jackson aka Krucifix14. Bail was denied at a surprising hearing.

No Moët and hoes for Matthew Ward-Jackson aka Krucifix14. No Red Shoes for the rest of us. Bail was denied after a surprise development cut the bail hearing short.

Today I went to the Jane and Finch courthouse for the bail hearing of Matthew Ward-Jackson, charged, among other things, with selling Dellen Millard the gun allegedly used to kill his father, Wayne Millard.

The courthouse is located in the world’s worst strip mall, where the only food source is Swiss Chalet. You can’t get your nails done during the breaks or eat pho for lunch or buy a Somali cell phone, although there is a criminal law office and the court clerk told me about a great Caribbean buffet for $8 at Weston Rd.


Read also: A Day in Court with Matthew Ward-Jackson and his lawyer, Deepak Paradkar


Outside the courtroom, I ran into Ward-Jackson’s friend and occasional rapper, Rissy Riss, who asked me how my book was going. “It’s with my lawyer,” I told him. He nodded sympathetically. Lawyers.

A picture's worth a thousand words

A picture’s worth a thousand words

Riss was with a blonde with a long braid, lots of eyeliner and mukluks. It seemed rude to ask if she was a Gotass Girl so I didn’t, but I think maybe she was. When we entered the courtroom, Riss and the blonde sat in the right back row with three other people who knew Ward-Jackson. In the left back row were the cops including Detective Mike Carbone from the infamous Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard press conference.

I have mixed feelings about that press conference. On the one hand, I feel like Carbone was sent on a suicide mission. He had just been assigned to the case and wasn’t responsible for the initial screw-ups. But, on the other hand, it was such a terrible press conference that I can’t really work up much sympathy for anyone involved.

There were two crown attorneys present because this was a joint bail hearing. Ward-Jackson has drugs and weapons charges stemming from a January drug raid in Mississauga and then the Millard-related weapons charges, which were laid in April. Jason Miller from Guns and Gangs was responsible for the January stuff and Laura Bird, who is in charge of the Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard murder cases, handled the April trafficking charges.

This is a good time to say that Ward-Jackson is pleading not guilty to all the charges against him and none of the allegations have been proven in court. His lawyer is Fariborz Davoudi, who had promised to tell me when the bail hearing was taking place, but didn’t. When he walked into the court and saw me, he was at a momentary loss for words. “Heeeeeeeeeeey,” he said, stalling for time. “You made it.” (Our last in-person meeting was back in June when I had showed him his client’s active social media life.)

The Justice of the Peace David Lippingwell imposed the standard publication ban at the request of the defence so I can’t tell you anything much else about what happened after that. I was the only reporter there.

At the break, Laura Bird and Mike Carbone went next door to see Dellen Millard and Mark Smich make their regular monthly video appearances. Smich looked his usual self, a little on the heavier side, but in decent shape with a buzz cut. Millard looked the worst I’ve ever seen him. He’s constantly changing his facial hair and, this time around, perhaps in Movember mode, he had a fu manchu moustache with the ends dangling down off his chin and greasy, chin-length hair. He’s gone native.

Millard also has a new attorney for the Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard murder charges. He is now being represented by Ravin Pillay, who has replaced Deepak Paradkar on those two cases. Pillay and Paradkar have been working together since early on and still are, but I wasn’t aware of this official change until today.

MIllard is pleading not guilty to both murder charges as well as the murder of Tim Bosma. Smich is also pleading not guilty to the murders of Laura Babcock and Tim Bosma. Millard and the Crown have agreed to an in-chambers judicial pre-trial December 19, but it has to be confirmed with one of Smich’s lawyers. Millard and Smich will both be back November 19 to try and firm up that date.

After the video appearances, we returned to the Matthew Ward-Jackson bail hearing, which for reasons I cannot report, was cut suddenly short. Bail was denied.

It was all very surprising, but who doesn’t like to get Friday afternoon off?

The snow is important: Serial podcast is not misleading anyone

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There’s a lot of muttering about the journalistic ethics of Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast. Is it okay to withhold facts to build suspense? Are we listeners being strung along for the sake of narrative? Could everyone please try to remember these are real people we’re talking about not fictional HBO characters. Scold, scold, scold.

After deliberating on the issue for several days, I’m voting that Serial’s ethical. My theory is that Koenig is trying to put us in the frame of mind she was in as the story unfolded. She didn’t meet Jay until eight months into her year of research. And we, the audience, don’t meet Jay until eight episodes into a planned 12 episodes. The goal was to have the audience feel what she felt. It’s not withholding facts but rather an attempt to recreate her investigation, to make us see things as she did. That’s why she hasn’t confronted Adnan. If you’re a reporter on a story like this, you don’t do the confrontation until you’re ready. We’ll see the confrontation at the point in the investigation that she confronted Adnan.

If you’re not convinced of my theory, go back and re-listen to Episode 1 or read the transcript. Then, consider the snow because the snow is important. Asia McLean, the girl that wrote the supposed alibi letter, said, “I remember that day, because that was the day that it snowed.”

Koenig responded: “Were there snow days after that, do you remember?”

McLean replied: “I want to say there was, because I think that was like the first snow of the year. I wouldn’t have even remembered if it hadn’t have been for the snow. And the whole – I just remember being so pissed about Derek being late and then getting snowed in at his house. And it was the first snow of that year.”

Asia is wrong. It didn’t snow that day. Look what happens when you google Baltimore weather ja …

Baltimore weather January 13 1999

There’s an auto-prompt because so many people are googling it to find out if McLean’s memory was accurate, and it wasn’t. The first snow of the year in Baltimore in 1999 had been the week before. It would be a mistake to assume Koenig doesn’t know this and that it hasn’t been fact-checked. (Remember, earlier on in that episode she told us she had fact-checked all of Rabia’s statements about Adnan. He was prom prince not homecoming king, paid EMT not volunteer, etc.)

That’s why Koenig’s next line is so artfully worded: “The snow is important. Hae disappeared on a Wednesday. That night there was a huge ice storm, which is unusual in Maryland. It ended up being a state emergency. And school was closed for the rest of the week.”

If you listen between the lines, Koenig is telling us that Asia got it wrong. She confused snow and a ice storm, which, if you’ve just lived through both of them, are definitely not interchangeable. Asia’s so-called alibi would have fallen apart on the witness stand. Picture the cross examination. Was it a snow storm? Or ice? You don’t remember? You’re confused? What else don’t you remember and are you confused about it?

Koenig knew at this point that snow was important, that she had to pin down the weather that day. But does Rabia Chaudry, who’s been Adnan’s chief advocate over these past 15 years, think the snow is important enough to check? Here’s what Rabia says about why she believes Asia McLean’s testimony was crucial: “And she remembered very specifically that that day she went to her boyfriend’s house with him, and they got snowed in. And it snowed really heavily that night. And she remembered that for the following two days, school was closed. So she had very specific details about why she remembered that day.”

In 15 years, Chaudry has never fact-checked this snow statement.

So is it unethical for Koenig not just to tell us that it didn’t snow, that Asia is wrong? What if she didn’t find out about the weather until much later? What if her point is for us to experience things the way she did? Is it still unethical?

There’s another example of Koenig’s and Chaudry’s very different approaches in Episode 1. When Koenig is discussing memory at the very beginning of the show, she says: “If some significant event happened that day, you remember that, plus you remember the entire day much better.

“If nothing significant happened, then the answers get very general. I most likely did this, or I most likely did that.”

Based on this theory, Adnan should have remembered what happened on January 13, 1999. Hae Min Lee disappeared that day and the police called Adnan to question him late that afternoon. That’s significant. And, according to Adnan himself, there was another thing that made that day special — it was his good friend Stephanie’s birthday. So Adnan should remember.

But here’s Rabia Chaudry describing talking to Adnan after the verdict: “And he’s like, she disappeared in January, you know? In March, you’re asking me, where were you after school for 20 minutes on a specific day? All the days are the same to me, you know?”

So Koenig has just explicitly stated that people remember days with significant events better, Adnan is saying there was nothing special about this day, and Rabia is not questioning that statement: “All the days are the same to me, you know?”

Really?

This reporting has been interpreted has Koenig being naive, credulous. Maybe, but I don’t think so. If anyone’s being naive and credulous it’s Rabia who failed to question the snow and Adnan’s failure to remember. We have pretty good reason to believe Koenig questions both.

Or at least, that’s my theory. And I’m sticking to it until someone tells me why I’m wrong.

 

 

 

 

Matthew Ward-Jackson aka Big Iish not guilty of coke trafficking, still faces Millard-related weapons charges

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For those of you following the Matthew Ward-Jackson aka @Krucifix14 aka Big Iisho affair, I owe you an update so here goes.

Last Wednesday (October 29), Mr. Ward-Jackson was found not guilty of cocaine possession and intent to traffic while conceding that he had indeed been in possession of a few grams of marijuana for personal use. This finding opens the door for a bail hearing to get Iish “out of the bin,” as the Gotass girls would say. Or as @Krucifix14 himself puts it on his Instagram account: “!!!COMING HOME SOON!!! Title: New Video ” RED SHOES ” ~Out Soon~14 hoes n moét For Booking: krucifix14@gmail.com.”


A Day in Court with Matthew Ward-Jackson and his lawyer, Deepak Paradkar


What else? A while back on Websleuths.com, an eagle-eyed sleuther identified the fellow with his eye blacked out, who is tattooed on the side of Iish’s head. It is none other than Sir Robert Laird Borden, the eighth Prime Minister of Canada, of interest to the Krucifix14 crowd not so much for the Conscription Crisis or any other historical stuff, but rather for being the face on the $100 bill.

As it turns out, it is quite popular in certain circles to have famous people from money — Jacksons, anyone? — tattooed on your body. Not only does Iish have a Borden tatt, so does Dubs Banger, one of his two co-accused in the Millard-related weapons trafficking case, which is how I came to discover Iish and Dubs in the first place.

Robert Borden $100 bill tattoo

Iish’s Robert Borden tattoo (left) is like a bad courtroom sketch. But Dubs Banger’s Borden (right)  is a much better likeness to the $100 bill (middle).

The Websleuths’ identification of Borden led to an aha! moment of my own. I realized, upon close examination of the evidentiary photos, that the person on Borden’s left (above) and right (below), who I had earlier thought was an androgynous pixie, was in fact Queen Elizabeth II. Given that she also has a money connection, it all started to make sense.

Queen Elizabeth II tattoo

Looking at things from a different angle, it’s possible to recognize Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

What still hasn’t been explained, however, is why Sir Robert Borden should have a big black eye and why Big Iisho has such an ongoing fascination with people being shot in the eye. For example, in this “creep ass ontario south toronto” recording circa 2007, he sings the lyrics are “shoot a man in his eye socket twice, he be quick to start jerking, twittering, twitching and moving.” This has been a disturbing obsession of Big Iisho’s for quite some time. And it’s all the more peculiar, given that Matthew Ward-Jackson is accused of selling Dellen Millard the illegal gun he allegedly used to kill his father, Wayne MIllard, who is reported to have been shot in the eye.

Matthew Ward-Jackson

Matthew Ward-Jackson has a disturbing fascination with people being shot in the eye. This photo appeared on Twitter some two weeks after Wayne Millard’s murder.

But here’s the thing, despite the Millard-related weapons charges, and the fact that Iish is also facing a different set of charges for owning an AK-47 and a whole lot of other drugs, no one (excluding the cops and various Crown attorneys) has a bad thing to say about him, including some people who should be very, very angry at Big Iisho.

At this point, I am going to interrupt this blog post to stress that Ward-Jackson is pleading not guilty to all the charges against him and none of the allegations have been proven in court. Also, the Crown is going to have to do a whole lot better job than it did with the recent drug case, for which MJ was found not guilty, if they want to make any of these other charges stick. Interruption now over.

So, as I was saying, Matthew Ward-Jackson is a pretty popular guy, described variously as polite, educated and sweet. Now, I know, you’re probably thinking that, based on all those tattoos and the social media and the creep ass ontario song, that none of this makes sense, and you would be right. But the facts are the facts. While none of Iish’s friends, acquaintances and colleagues were fond of the facial tattoos, they all liked Iish.

Based on this diverse but unanimous chorus of character references, I have concluded that Matthew Ward-Jackson, more than anything else, resembles a character in an Elmore Leonard novel, one of those aspiring small-time hoods and con artists who — thanks to dumb mistakes and bad judgment — unwittingly get caught up in far more dangerous and deadly capers.  Where the Elmore Leonard comparison falls short, however, is that Leonard doesn’t let innocent people get killed. (Again, Ward-Jackson is pleading not guilty to all he charges against him.)

And finally, one last piece of information about how Matthew Ward-Jackson is connected to Dellen Millard. Friends of Iish and Mark Smich tell me that Iish often hung at Smich’s place. They were on good enough terms that Iish would even comment on one of Smich’s sister’s Instagram accounts and interacted on Facebook with Smich’s BFF, Cora. Iish also knew Dellen Millard, who hung out Chez Smich from time to time as well. So, that’s the connection.

And for the record, Millard and Smich are pleading not guilty to all the charges against them including the murders of Tim Bosma, Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard (Smich not charged with this one). None of the allegations have been proven in court.

 

 

Crown seeks direct indictment in Laura Babcock murder case

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The Crown is seeking a direct indictment in the Laura Babcock murder case, raising further questions about the original investigation into her disappearance by Toronto police.

If the direct indictment is granted, it should be announced over the next few weeks and the case against the accused, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, will proceed directly to trial without a preliminary hearing.

A direct indictment was granted last July for the related murder trial of Tim Bosma, where Millard and Smich are also charged. At the time, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur commented: “I’m not going to speak about the case, but when this procedure is supported, it’s because there is good evidence that the person being accused will become convicted.”

Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Attorney General, said the ministry does not comment on whether requests for direct indictments have been made in a specific case.

Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty on all counts and none of the allegations against them have been proven in court.

The Babcock case is very different from the Bosma murder in terms of what the public knows about the evidence. Police have said that Tim Bosma’s remains, burned beyond recognition, were found on Millard’s farm near Ayr, Ontario, and that Bosma’s truck was found in a trailer parked in the driveway of Millard’s mother, Madeleine Burns, in Kleinburg, north of Toronto. The Hamilton Spectator has reported that the victim was incinerated in a livestock incinerator found on Millard’s animal-less farm and purchased through Millardair.

In contrast, none of the evidence in the Laura Babcock case has been made public. There is also no body although the Hamilton Spectator reported that its sources believe Babcock was incinerated shortly after her disappearance in July 2012.

Many questions have been raised about how the Laura Babcock investigation was originally handled by Toronto police, who have been severely criticized for not following up on a mobile phone bill showing that the last eight phone calls she made were to Dellen Millard.

Sgt. Stephen Woodhouse — who was the lead detective in the original 2012 search for Laura Babcock told the National Post in May 2013 that investigators were never aware of any relationship between her and Dellen Millard. Contradicting her parents and ex-boyfriend, who said they had repeatedly brought the phone records to police attention, Sgt. Woodhouse said police did not see them until after Millard was arrested for the Tim Bosma murder. (Although, according to TPS operating procedures, investigators should have acquired the phone records of anyone missing under such circumstances, whether given to them by the family or not.)

“In this case we had no idea where Laura was living at the time, who her circle of friends were, what she was doing,” said Sgt. Woodhouse, who has since taken another position within Toronto Police and is no longer assigned to the case.

“In a city of 3 million people, where do you start?” he said. “We did the standard press release and put her picture out there… We followed the leads that we had.”

That the Crown would apply for a direct indictment indicates that they think they have a very strong case against Millard. This means that once police got serious about the Babcock disappearance investigation they don’t appear to have had too much difficulty finding evidence. It raises the question once again of why the investigation into Laura’s disappearance was so different pre- and post-Millard’s arrest.

In addition to the Bosma and Babcock murders, Dellen Millard has also been charged with the murder of his father, Wayne. No direct indictment is being sought in that case. Given that the Babcock and Bosma murder cases are being handled by different jurisdictions, it’s highly unlikely they will be joined and tried together.

Once again, none of the allegations against Millard and Smich have been proven in court. They are innocent until proven guilty.

What happened to Jeffrey Boucher? Read my new e-book on the case of the missing runner

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Read my new e-book: The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher

You can buy it on Amazon

It’s an account of the events surrounding the disappearance of the Whitby dad and my theory on what happened to Jeffrey Boucher.

Buy The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher (or read the free sample)

Matthew Ward-Jackson: Believed to have sold Dellen Millard the gun used to kill his father, Wayne Millard

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Matthew Ward-Jackson

Matthew Ward-Jackson, not as he appeared in Toronto court via video earlier today

Full story tomorrow. Here’s some background in the meantime.

Update June 10: My story is now up at the National Post. The first two paragraphs are below and here’s another photo of Matthew Ward-Jackson.

Do you see the man with the blacked-out eye in the top righthand corner?

Do you see the man with the blacked-out eye in the top lefthand corner?

The active social media life of a man believed to have sold a gun to accused triple murderer Dellen Millard has added another layer of mystery to what was already a bizarre case.

Matthew Ward-Jackson, charged with weapons trafficking in April, has almost no web presence  under his own name. Instead, the 27-year old with a tattooed face and body uses  the online aliases @Krucifix14, Krucifix North and @BIGiisho to document his life as an aspiring gangsta-style rapper. Instagram photos, YouTube videos and Facebook posts show him pouring champagne over women’s thong-clad backsides, literally throwing money around, driving classic cars and, more incongruously, taking bubble baths in a heart-shaped red tub.

Read the whole thing at the Post.

Keep up to date on the Dellen Millard investigations. Receive my newsletter. Just add your email address below:


Accused murderer Mark Smich lived at home of Wayne and Dellen Millard

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Accused Murderer Mark Smich

Houseguest Mark Smich (above) and his host Dellen Millard are charged with the murders of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock. Dellen Millard is also accused of murdering his father Wayne. They are pleading not guilty to all the charges. (Photo: Facebook)

Since I wrote my Grid article on the Toronto Police investigations into the murders of Wayne Millard and Laura Babcock, a number of facts have come to my attention.

Mark Smich and his girlfriend, whose name cannot be printed due to a publication ban, were living in the basement of Wayne MIllard’s Etobicoke home for several weeks (at least) before he was allegedly murdered. They were not in a separate apartment, but right in the same house.

In the past, Dellen had had other friends live in the basement, and although his father was not happy with this communal living situation, he never kicked anyone out. Instead, Wayne used tactics like not stocking the fridge in the hopes that this would make the basement a less attractive crash pad.

After Wayne MIllard was allegedly murdered, Dellen; his mother, Madeleine Burns; and his ex-fiancee were all present as police investigated the death that night. Smich was not there.

The Hamilton Spectator reported last month that Wayne was killed with a trafficked gun.

At the time of Wayne’s death in November 2012, basement resident Mark Smich had  two convictions from drug possession charges, two fail to comply convictions and one conviction for impaired driving. The previous month, he had been charged with mischief under $5,000 for spray-painting an Oakville overpass.

Smich and Dellen Millard are charged with the first degree murders of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock. Millard is also charged with the first degree murder of his father Wayne. Both men are pleading not guilty to all the charges against them.

If you have more information, please contact me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com.

You can get the latest on all these linked cases by subscribing to my newsletter.  Just add your email address below:


Relax, dog lovers, Popper cheats death in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

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If you are, like me, a dog, book and movie lover, you will feel a sense of dread when reading Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch. This is because it features a small white fluffster of a Maltese dog — called variously Popper, Popchik and Popchyk — who appears doomed from the moment he makes his entry into the novel, greeting with desperate shrieks the evil owner who has left him home all alone for almost two weeks.

Luckily for Popper, things change for the better thanks to Theo, the new teenage addition to his household,  and Theo’s bad-guy buddy, Boris. These two drug and booze-addled dudes let the little dog hang out with them, ending his life of isolation. The downside  is that their activities don’t exactly provide a safe and secure environment for the family pet, provoking many anxieties that he will go missing forever in a deserted Las Vegas subdivision.

Worse yet, when Theo and Boris encounter a mobster, it seems predestined that Popper will get what happens to so many movie dogs and end up lifeless on the front door stoop or kitchen counter with a threatening note attached to his collar.

Any half-serious movie goer knows just how often the loyal family dog meets a gruesome death, enough that there exists an entire website — www.DoesTheDogDie.com — devoted to answering this “most important movie question” and mentally preparing dog-loving movie goers for what’s to come.

That there is no literary equivalent to  www.DoesTheDogDie.com can be seen as a good thing  in as much as it  shows that tear-jerking pet death  has never been as big an issue for books as it is for movies. On the other hand, it also means there’s no quick reference guide to turn to if a reader does start to worry about a fictional dog’s future.

Therefore in the interests of calming the nerves of dog and literary fiction lovers reading The Goldfinch, I am hereby informing you that Popper survives this almost 800-page novel unharmed despite his many brushes with danger and long absences from the narrative.

And no, I did not forget the spoiler warning. The only thing this knowledge will spoil is a sadistic ride on the roller coaster of fear for an innocent little Maltese dog. Knowing Popper’s fate does not in any way affect the outcome of the rest of The Goldfinch.

Rest reassured dear Reader, Popper lives to a ripe old age.

Fed leak rumours shine spotlight on bigger problems with ‘media’ lock-ups

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Government never intended to become part of the high-speed trading infrastructure, but it can’t extricate itself without alienating Wall Street

Lock-ups, like the one the Fed is now investigating for a leak, make no sense in the age of the internet. The Fed and other agencies that announce potentially market-moving data could far more easily release it on the web, as Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt argues they should in this interview. But this is unlikely to happen anytime soon due to the simple fact that lock-ups have, over the past few years, become part of the infrastructure for so-called high frequency trading or HFT as its known.

Wall Street, a major donor to both U.S. political parties, would go ballistic if it no longer had access to the lock-ups through special fibre optic lines and, as of late, microwave networks. Instead of the data travelling straight to the Street via so-called machine readable feeds that allow profitable trades to take place in milliseconds, hedge funds and traders would have to figure out a way to get the data from the internet so they could then trade on it. It might take seconds like it did in the past and this is something, the masters of the universe wouldn’t be prepared to live with.

As a result of this most recent Fed leak investigation, several other leak and lock-up stories this year, and various ongoing SEC and FBI investigations, we’re likely to see two things happen in the very near (but far longer than milliseconds away) future. One, expect to hear more and more that lock-ups — originally conceived  to ensure the public received clear information in a timely fashion — have become obsolete in this era of global communications. And two, prepare for Wall Street to push back and tell us there will be market chaos if lock-ups are done away with. Financiers will argue that such a change would make the system unfair and susceptible to the horrible vagaries of regular old internet connections.

Access to lock-ups is so important to the HFT crowd that over the past decade, several trading companies have set up their own “news agencies” (yes, those are scare quotes) to gain the coveted entry key. Chicago’s JED Capital funded Need to Know News and then sold it to the Deutsche Börse. The Montreal-based proprietary trader Vigilant Global (formerly Vigilant Futures) founded the now-defunct Canadian Economic Press (CEP News) and, as a result, received direct feeds from lock-ups in Ottawa, Washington, London and Frankfurt. A Slovakian firm, World Business Press Online, cropped up in Bratislava, and started attending lock-ups around the world. Then came Econolive, also know as Empire News, which appears to be an Israeli firm, but this can’t be confirmed because no one there will return phone calls and their reporters don’t have the foggiest idea who owns the company. And last but not least there’s Buffalo-based RTTNews which — unlike many of the aforementioned new players — has been around since early internet days. In recent years, it’s had a makeover, however, and it too is now an active lock-up attendee.

All this activity eventually attracted the interest of the FBI, but failed to result in any arrests or prosecutions. Apart from the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to kick Need to Know News and RTTNews out of its lock-ups in the spring of 2012, everyone’s still attending Washington’s other lock-ups and many go to similar lock-ups in the UK, Germany and Canada.

According to anonymous but proven-to-be reliable sources, it was never clear that there was indeed any illegal leaking by the new “news agencies.” Despite the suspicion and investigations, no evidence of malfeasance was ever found. Multiple insiders, who did not want to give their names, said the new “news agencies” profited simply because they were both more nimble and more sophisticated than bigger, better established news operations, which made them significantly faster in the age of HFT.

“While I can’t say if any of these (new) news companies were cheating, I can say they were light years ahead technology wise over DJ, Reuters, Bloomberg, AP, etc,” said one source in an email.  “They built highly optimized networks to transfer this data through ultra low latency switches and lines that the other guys never thought of.  They also were optimized to this single rifle shot of data through a network where the big legacy guys were using systems/networks optimized for throughput and continuously publishing hundreds or thousands of stories simultaneously and continuously.”

Since the invasion of the small news agencies beginning in 2005,  the big players have mostly caught up and just about everyone now offers machine readable feeds (you program your computer with algorithms that allow trades to be carried out in the blink of an eye) and low latency (ultra high-speed) services.

Many of the traders associated with new “news agencies” are said to have their own microwave networks, which are supposedly faster than even the newest fibre optic lines. In a study released after reports of the September 18 Fed leak, the large trading firm Virtu Financial confirmed that certain companies receive their data via microwave radio signals, a topic that traders usually don’t mention in public.

In August of 2012, the Chicago Tribune reported:

These microwave networks require a dish every 30 miles or so and Federal Communications Commission approval. High-speed traders, however, try to cloak their routes in secrecy. FCC filings do not list the traders themselves but limited liability companies with such nondescript names as Webline Holdings.

For this reason, it was unusual to see Montreal’s Vigilant Global publicly named when it requested antennae permits in both the U.S. and Great Britain. According to a source, Vigilant, Virtu and Jump Trading are confirmed to have their own microwave networks. Other firms who may own them are Allston Trading, Tower Trading Group, which owns the mysterious Latour Trading, and Final, an Israeli company that is a top volume player on the CME.

While some traders have said that they think the ongoing investment in proprietary millisecond-shaving networks is a costly war of diminishing returns, others are not yet ready to lay down arms. Jump is supposed to have “bought a de-commisioned NATO telco tower in Belgium to secure the fastest London-to-Frankfurt route,” said the source.

The source added that any one of these trading companies might own and/or be (exclusive) clients of the smaller news agencies accessing lock-ups. This conflict-of-interest situation is a huge annoyance to the legacy news agencies, who don’t make multi-million dollar trades on the side and must earn their profits solely by providing news. They’ve tried on many occasions to have the new players booted out of the lock-ups and their press passes revoked, but these efforts have been foiled partly due to governmental bureaucratic inertia and partly due to haphazard media accreditation systems devised by press gallery members themselves.

The whole situation is further complicated by the fact that it’s not just Wall Street that would be in trouble if lock-ups were abolished; Bloomberg,Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones would be cut right out of their profitable middleman role, which would undermine their entire business model. Last year, when Statistics Canada attempted to put information on the web before it was released from lock-ups, it was immediately forced to back down. Reuters reported that it and other news organizations had made “strenuous representations” to StatsCan and the minister in charge to block the change.  StatsCan was supposed to come up with an alternative proposal shortly, but there’s been radio silence ever since.

As much as the internet makes it possible to do away with lock-ups, powerful vested interests won’t let go of the keys to the money-making chambers without a fight.

Dellen Millard’s letter from jail

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Here is the full text of the letter Dellen Millard, accused murderer of Tim Bosma, wrote from prison to one of his fans, a 31-year-old woman from the Kitchener area. For details on how it was authenticated see these two earlier posts:

If you have information on the Dellen Millard, please contact me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com.

Text of the letter

Dee,

The prisoners here call me ‘Big D.’ So I kind of feel like I’m writing to someone who has highjacked (sic) my nickname. I’m going to take it as a meanningful (sic) coincidence. Pleased to make your aquaintance (sic)!

I’ve never before found myself in prison. It’s been an uncomfortable experience so far. One of the worst parts has been that everyone seems to think I am a murderer. (Which I’m not, I go out of my not to step on ants.) I always suspected the news papers (sic) were full of shit, but until recently I had no idea! Another surprise was how the police conduct themselves. They formed their theory, and then went about making it a reality. I’m somewhat horrified at imagining how many innocent people might be imprisoned right now. Police corruption is nothing like Hollywood portrayed, truth really is stranger than fiction.

My closest friends and family stand by my side, which is really all I need. But I must say it is uplifting to get your letter! That someone out there who has not known me cant still see what’s being said about me just doesn’t addup, gives me confidence a jury can see it too.

continued…

I’d like very much to continue to write to you; to have your support and to have a proper conversation once I make bail.

(Which I hope will happen in September).

But for that to happen, I’m going to have to meet you first.

I get two twenty minute visits per week. Because I only get two, you can bet one will be taken every week by family.

I invite you to drop by :

tuesday 9am – 11am 6pm – 8pm

I look forward to meeting you Dee!

-Dellen -(BigD)

H.W.D.C.
2B left
cell 7
165 Barton St E
Hamilton On
L8L 2W8

Dee Letter page 1

Dee Letter page 2

Thoughts on Toronto and Rob Ford

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I have an article on Toronto’s travails in Chatham House’s The World Today magazine. It carries on where my La Presse piece from three years ago left off.

Here’s the start of my new article:

Toronto is a city that knows its place, or at least it did until recently. It had earned its nickname ‘Toronto the Good’, and was used to compliments from visitors who praised it for being ‘so clean’ and ‘so safe’.

Although Toronto overtook Montreal to become Canada’s largest city in the mid-Sixties, it always accepted it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. Torontonians were content to forgo glamour and a home-grown independence movement for their booming job market and rising house prices.

It has helped, too, that over the decades Toronto, once seen as an uptight anglophile enclave, has succeeded in rebranding itself as the world’s most multicultural city – more than half of its inhabitants were born outside Canada. Toronto has gained enough confidence to ignore the barbed comments from the rest of the country.

Read the whole thing and see the very apt Rob Ford picture the editors chose to accompany the article.

Vigilant Global builds new wireless network in Europe, North America

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Vigilant Global builds new wireless network in Europe, North America

Planning applications are underway in both the U.S. and U.K.

Earlier this month, city councillors in Castle Point, England, a town 30 miles east of central London, turned down a proposal from Vigilant Global, the secretive Montreal-based proprietary trading company, to add two new dish antennae to the local water tower.


How HFT firms access secure government briefings to get the jump on market-moving data
The mystery ending of Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys: FCC License No. 1215095


The plans called for 60cm and 1.2m dishes – the latter of which would have been the biggest antennae on the building so far.

The failed application appears to be one of several Vigilant Global has made over the past 12 to 18 months including one in London’s Crystal Palace ward and another in Westmont, Illinois, just west of Chicago where Michael Bieniek of Lora, Chanthadouangsy & Castellanos, LLC, requested a permit to place more than three antennas on a structure on behalf of his client.

A Minstead Parish council report for another application states:

The dishes would aid the business of Vigilant Global, a company which serves the electronic finance sector. They are currently in the process of designing and implementing a wireless network to replace their existing fibre infrastructure.

The application further notes:

Vigilant Global is a Montreal-based R&D and IT firm that designs and deploys high-performance systems for the world of electronic finance. Vigilant Global operates a proprietary communication network across the UK for the transfer of information between various sites. They are currently in the process of designing and implementing a wireless network to provide redundancy to their existing fibre infrastructure. As such, they need several links and sites in order to establish a connection. The dishes at this site are essential to allow them to use this location as an intermediary, but network critical, link for the overall end to end connection.

The scheme merely seeks to install 2 new dishes, onto the existing mast, and one which is already populated with a significant amount of telecommunications equipment.

The most interesting information about the network, however, can be found in a statement  submitted on behalf of Arqiva and Vigilant Global in support of an application for full planning permission at a site off Cuckoo Lane, Bulbarrow Hill, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0HQ. This existing electronic communications site is controlled and managed by Arqiva, which is “a radio site management company which provides much of the infrastructure behind television, radio and wireless communications in the UK and has a growing presence in Ireland, mainland Europe and the USA.”

I’ve linked to a cached version of the statement, which appears to have been removed from the website where I found it 10 days ago (cached versions are temporary so this link may die too). Below I’ve picked out some of the juicy bits — or at least what I found to be the juicy bits.

From Section 1, INTRODUCTION:

1.4 As explained in more detail in the accompanying Economic Statement, the transmission dishes (point to point radio links often known as ‘microwave’ links),will form part of a wider network of low latency dish backhaul solutions for Vigilant Global, a company providing network solutions for clients operating within the London and global financial securities and trading markets.

From Section 2, LOW LATENCY DISH COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK:

2.1 As set out in greater detail within the supporting Economic Statement, within the financial securities markets there is an ever increasing demand for faster trading speeds through advanced communications technology. In particular, high frequency computer-based trading (HFT) has grown in recent years to represent about 30% of equity trading in the UK and possibly over 60% in the USA.

2.2 The key factor in high-frequency trading is ‘latency’, a term used by trading firms to define delays that occur in transmitting buy and sell orders. The “millisecond environment” in which today’s financial markets operate mean that computers respond to each other at a speed 100 times faster than it would take for a human trader to blink. This is extremely important. The US TABB Group estimates that a five millisecond delay in transmitting an automatic trade can cost a broker 1% of its flow; which could be worth £2.6m in revenues per millisecond.

2.3 One of the major restrictions to latency is the use of fixed line fibre optic networks. This is now leading to significant investment in the UK to improve trading speeds through the use of low latency wireless dish communicationnetworks.

2.4 The proposed development will form part of larger network of ultra high speed (low latency) wireless dish communications sites which will support the UK financial services industry. The low latency network being developed will be very high speed and is critical to enable competitive trading undertaken on an automated basis. The value of such trading runs into the millions each day and without such networks, City based financial institutions would find themselves at a disadvantage compared to other world financial centres. At best this would result in reduced profits, but at worst could mean financial institutions relocating from the UK.

2.5 The proposed new communications dishes at the existing communications site at Bulbarrow Hill is absolutely critical to meeting this low latency microwave networkand ensuring that London remains the world’s leading financial centre and hence a major contributor to the UK GDP. It is for this reason that achieving sustainable growth in the UK Financial sector and embracing new infrastructure requirements such as low latency communication networks is embodied in the former and present Governments UK growth agenda.

From Section 3, OPERATIONAL NEED – BULBARROW HILL:

3.3 The height of the mast, at 70m, and its geographical and topographical position on Bulbarrow Hill, make it an ideal technical solution for Vigilant’s requirements as it provides a direct and unobstructed path towards suitable other communication tower locations in the low latency network. These links form part of a transatlantic route that will run overland from Cornwall, Devon and Dorset (to/from the US) to the City of London and thereafter to routes across theChannel into Continental Europe, linking with financial centres there, particularly Frankfurt.

3.6 This is an important financial and operational benefit, as it executes the principle that the smallest number of radio sites connected by dish links will ensure lowest latency times due to shorter travel time for trading information. In the millisecond trading environment, this is very important to the successful operation of these low latency networks in the UK and will ensure that the UK securities and trading markets and wider Digital Economy remains highly efficient and globally competitive.

From Section 7, SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS:

7.1 In summary, the application seeks full planning permission for the installation of additional electronic communications apparatus that will form a critical role in Vigilant Global’s low latency network. This network, which supports the UK’s financial services industry, provides a nationally important communications infrastructure route linking the UK to USA and Europe.

These quotes strike me as especially interesting given that the FBI has now reopened its investigation into how media companies transmit government data to investors. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that one of the reasons the multi-year investigation had finally been shut down was because the government had concerns about whether it could prove in court that a time advantage for a trader of a sliver of a second—as little as a few thousandths—was enough to conduct profitable trades on confidential information.

Seems like someone should get hold of a copy of the Arqiva document not to mention the TABB Group’s estimates.

Despite its multi-year investigation, the FBI has never found any wrong-doing and no charges have been laid against anyone. There is no indication at all that anything illegal has ever taken place.

Based on my research, certain players in media lock-ups had a completely legal speed advantage.

Dellen Millard: Four articles that shed light on Dellen Millard, accused murderer of Tim Bosma

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Here are four articles that provide insights into the character and motivations of Dellen Millard, the 27-year-old man accused of murdering Tim Bosma.

Suspect in Tim Bosma’s death was always ‘a little different’ and did ‘odd stuff’ at private school, classmate says

And one of the odd things he did was to seek attention by eating dog biscuits straight out of the box. This is a great Dellen MIllard profile from the National Post. Read all

Whoever killed Bosma is abusive, exploitive and a risk-taker: profiler

James Van Allen, former head of the OPP’s criminal profiling unit, tells the Spectator:

(Tim Bosma’s) killer is someone who is exploitive, abusive, lacks any empathy and is a risk-taker.

The murder deviates from what is typically seen in the car theft racket, he said, where excessive violence is not the norm.

“This is too elaborate to steal one truck; to have these allegations of multiple people involved, multiple attempts to access a truck.”

What doesn’t add up, he said, is why anyone would murder for a truck. And “is the crime incongruent with the person charged?”

Read all

Tim Bosma’s murder may have been “thrill kill”: source

The Sun has someone in the police leaking information to them. This article appeared early on in the investigation:

Police are looking into a small, “close-knit group of friends” that hung around together.

Dellen Millard, charged with first-degree murder, was part of that group.

“Social media was a big part of their activities,” the source said…

…On one hand, this murder had the look and feel of something out of the movie Fargo, but a police source said a new TV show , The Following, may be closer to it.

The show depicts a number of people following a leader involved in nefarious activities, including homicide.

Read all

Declining Dynasty: More about Dellen Millard and his father Wayne

This is my article from the National Post dealing with, among other things, the mysterious death of Wayne Millard

In his role as a business development consultant to Millardair’s new Waterloo airport venture, Al Sharif was happy to have only limited contact with Dellen Millard, the boss’s son and the guy in charge of hangar construction. As far as Mr. Sharif and other executives at the company were concerned, Dellen and his red mohawk spelled trouble.

“I thought he was just a spoilt little brat who had his way all his life and didn’t appreciate what his father was doing for him,” said Mr. Sharif. “He was an impediment to the hangar operation” who didn’t meet his deadlines, almost never arrived at work before noon, and refused to clear his collection of cars, jeeps, hot rods, jet skis and personal airplanes from the business premises.

Read all

Declining Dynasty: The Family of Accused Killer Dellen Millard

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Wayne Millard with young Dellen Millard

Wayne Millard with young Dellen Millard

I have a story on the Millard family and Millardair’s new Waterloo business venture in today’s National Post. It doesn’t seem to be online yet, but I’m sure it will go up eventually. Here’s the link.

The story focuses on Wayne Millard and his mysterious death.

If you have any information on any of the different angles relating to this story and Tim Bosma’s horrific murder, I would like very much to hear from you. You can reach me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com or @AnnB03 on Twitter.

In the meantime, here are the first two paragraphs from my article:

In his role as a business development consultant to Millardair’s new Waterloo airport venture, Al Sharif was happy to have only limited contact with Dellen Millard, the boss’s son and the guy in charge of hangar construction. As far as Mr. Sharif and other executives at the company were concerned, Dellen and his red mohawk spelled trouble.

“I thought he was just a spoilt little brat who had his way all his life and didn’t appreciate what his father was doing for him,” said Mr. Sharif. “He was an impediment to the hangar operation” who didn’t meet his deadlines, almost never arrived at work before noon, and refused to clear his collection of cars, jeeps, hot rods, jet skis and personal airplanes from the business premises.

CSIS hacking story appears in National Post

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The Post picked up my story on the CSIS hacking.

I’m still perplexed by the comment from Tahera Mufti, a media liaison officer at CSIS, who said the websites are fine, when they clearly aren’t. I can only think of two explanations:

  1. The charitable explanation: CSIS fixed the sites after I first posted about the problem here and the search engines just haven’t caught up.
  2. The non-charitable explanation: CSIS really does not understand the nature of the problem and didn’t see they had been hacked.

I also learned on the weekend that developer Sean Walberg had noticed the Viagra spam as far back as January. He took a screenshot of the hacking that shows it differently from my examples.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 2.58.02 PM

Sean Walberg’s screenshot of the CSIS hacking

On Friday, you could still see this kind of result by viewing the Google cached versions of the infected www.csiscareers.ca pages but now those pages show a 404 message, which indicates to me that CSIS is actively clearing this up. As of this afternoon, Yahoo cached pages still show the infection, which makes sense since Yahoo (which is powered by Bing) doesn’t crawl as often and is slower to take account of changes.

Wattpad, What Pad, WTF Pad???!!!

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Wattpad is a bit of a tech darling as of late. Not only does it have the venture capital crowd on its side, it’s also got Margaret Atwood. In fact, credit where credit’s due, Atwood’s the one who coined the name “what pad,” which inspired WTF pad, whch sounds a lot like making reading and writing social, which is what Wattpad’s supposedly about. Or one of the things Wattpad might be about.

Except nothing about Wattpad, beyond the fact that it seems to have some very solid traffic and useage stats, makes much sense. If you don’t believe me, just go to their site and see if you can figure it out. I can’t and I’ve been dropping in once a year for a while now.

Although he makes a valiant attempt, this interviewer (I believe it’s Michael Healy)  seems equally perplexed by Wattpad. It’s almost as if he should have subtitles that read, “I don’t get it.”

In an attempt to get its story across, Wattpad often describes itself as wanting to do for writing what YouTube does for video. But that analogy doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons that I’ll only go into if someone asks.

Publicly at least, the Wattpad business model seems to be if we keep building it and they keep coming, we’ll find a way to monetize it. Think Twitter and Facebook. Fair enough, but we’re all still thinking about Twitter and Facebook, wondering if the former’s even profitable and if the latter’s ever going to live up to the hype.

Wattpad CEO Allen Lau is on the record for being a fan of  free and freemium (see video for just one example) and for talking — not all that clearly — about transactional relationships (the old way) versus gifting (the new way). Although at one point in his video interview he seems to advocate the write-for-free, sell-the-t-shirt-and-souvenir-book model, during the question period, he says he doesn’t want to get into the shrinking paper book market. It’s confusing if not contradictory.

For a company that’s all about story sharing, Wattpad either doesn’t have a very good story to tell, or they do but they’re not about to share it, which is kind of strange given that they’re hiring a PR manager when they’re not ready to divulge the plot.

In the past, I’ve called BS on some bizarre internet media companies — including Geosign which may have suckered U.S. venture capitalists out of a large chunk of the $160 million they invested — and I’ve turned out to be right. But I have a tendency to be overly sceptical and not see what I don’t know — like how Google was going to make a profit. Cough, cough.

In the case of Wattpad, I do think there’s a potentially viable business and this quote from the video (approximately 26 minutes in) is a clue, or one clue at least , to what the business model that Lau declines to talk about, might be.

A lot of people believe that on the internet we are going to get rid of all the middle men. I don’t think so. If you look at YouTube they are still a middleman, but the role of the middleman is quite different from the traditional world. (With the old model) the middleman is basically the gatekeeper, they would control the flow from the content creation side to the end user side. But for digital or for internet companies that role is changing. We are no longer the gatekeeper. We are the facilitator.We want to remove and reduce the friction between content creation and content consumption.

Lau also puts a lot of emphasis on being first and how one mega-player often reigns supreme on the internet in industries where competition used to be more vibrant. He cites Amazon and book-selling as an example.

My theory is that Lau wants to turn Wattpad into some kind of publishing marketplace where writers can use the social network as a focus group, get cover art, hire an agent, get publicity, find translators and much more.  Wattpad would collect commissions and fees from freemium users all along the publishing chain including present partners like Smashwords and Lulu.

Instead of helping writers monetize, which Lau says he doesn’t want to do, writers would help Wattpad monetize by paying for the freemium services they need. While only a handful are ever likely to break even or break out, they’re the ones who’ll provide the bulk of the revenues.

Wattpad has recently been asking published writers to put previously published works on line for free. Those who give it a whirl, like Jon Evans, have access to information about how readers read that they never had before.

Wattpad provides data

Lau  emphasizes the importance of data multiple times throughout the video. He also says on his blog that “the current ebook ecosystem is quite clearly just another bridge product” like Microsft’s Encarta encyclopedia on DVD. “Except for the output, the way ebook is written, edited, published and sold are more or less the same as the old traditional publishing system,” he writes.

That indicates to me that he’s aiming to make Wattpad the new ecosystem. I would be very surprised, however, if Amazon doesn’t understand all this just as well. Not only does Amazon likely have stats on how readers read every single ebook it sells, it’s also got its own publishing house and employs people who understand both traditional and “bridge” publishing models. It’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t understand that “the book” is evolving and that the future will be different.

As for the community aspect, Kindle Direct Publishing could build that out pretty fast and the big social reading sites have strong communities that are older and wiser than Wattpad’s mostly teen audience. They could move into the “new ecosystem” pretty fast if they wanted to.

End of Chapter One. I can now see if anyone’s interested and, if they are,  move on to Chapter Two in the Wattpad saga.

Tim Bosma, Laura Babcock and Wayne Millard Murder Trials: An Update

Dellen Millard is accused of the murders of Bosma, Babcock and his father, Wayne. Mark Smich is charged with killing Bosma and Babcock

CBC News reported yesterday that the long-awaited trial date for the Tim Bosma murder has been pushed back by a week to January 18, 2016. Earlier this year, the trial was postponed from this coming September to next January. If it begins as scheduled, it will take place almost three years after the highly-publicized test drive murder, which occurred in early May 2013.

Millard and Smich are pleading not guilty to all the charges against them.

CBC News also reported that “Ravin Pillay is on record as Millard’s lawyer” in the Bosma case, which is being heard in Hamilton while the other two matters are being dealt with in Toronto. Pillay previously took over the Babcock and Wayne Millard cases from Millard’s original lawyer, Deepak Paradkar.

A standard pre-trial publication ban prevents the release of any information relating to the pre-trial motions for the case, which began in February, continued in April and May,  and are set to resume in September.

Screen shot 2015-06-12 at 2.30.06 PM

Aviation business heirs Wayne and Dellen Millard in a family photo from the late eighties. Dellen, now 29, has been in Hamilton’s Barton Street jail awaiting trial since May 2013.

The shift in dates may have been made to accommodate a preliminary inquiry on the Wayne Millard matter, which is scheduled for January 4, 2016. Dates have also been reserved in September 2015 for a preliminary inquiry on the Laura Babcock murder although they will be lost if they conflict with the pre-trial motions in Hamilton.

While there was a direct indictment — meaning no preliminary inquiry in the Bosma murder — there have been no direct indictments granted in either the Babcock or Millard murders. After Laura Bird, the crown attorney originally assigned to the Toronto cases, was appointed a judge late last year, the prosecutions were reassigned to Ken Lockhart.

Meanwhile, in other related matters, the case of the three men charged with selling
Millard the illegal gun used to kill his father, continues to wind its way through the system at a glacial pace.

Serial podcast makes 5 big journalism mistakes

The hit podcast Serial has been showered with awards and praise, despite its many serious flaws. Here’s where it went very wrong

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Big Mistake Number Two: Adnan Syed’s writes, “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae Min Lee telling him to back off. Sarah Koenig describes this as something out of a cheesy detective novel. It’s almost as if she doesn’t take intimate partner violence seriously.

1. The false six weeks ago premise: Serial begins with the premise that it’s next to impossible to remember a regular day from six weeks ago, which is why Adnan Syed doesn’t have and never has had an alibi for January 13, 1999, the day that his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee was murdered. The problem with this narrative is that January 13 was never ever a regular day for Adnan.

The police called him hours after Hae went missing — when they learned that Adnan was supposed to get a lift with her that day. That, right then and there, was a pretty big incentive for Adnan to think seriously about the last time he saw Hae and everything he’d done in the hours since. You might also expect Adnan to have followed up later that evening or the next day with Hae’s family and friends, but, no, he never did.

Not to mention that the cops interviewed Adnan again some two weeks later (which is four weeks short of six) and showed up at his school on multiple other occasions before he was arrested six weeks after Hae’s murder.

The whole false six-weeks framing came courtesy of Adnan and his advocate-in-chief, Rabia Chaudry. The Serial team never questioned it.

2. Koenig consistently minimized and dismissed warning signs of intimate partner violence: If you’re interested, I wrote a whole separate essay on this topic, which you’ll find here. The three most egregious examples of Koenig’s downplaying of violence against women are:

  • Her characterization of  Adnan’s writing “I’m going to kill” on a break-up note from Hae as a detail you’d find in a cheesy detective novel. If she asked him for an explanation, she didn’t think it merited passing on to her audience
  • Her failure to mention that Hae asked teachers to help her hide from Adnan
  • Her reporting that Hae didn’t find Adnan possessive, when her diary shows  exactly the opposite

3. Hanging Jay out to dry for seven weeks: It wasn’t until episode eight that we the audience got to hear even the tiniest sliver of Jay’s story. Yes, narrative tension. Yes, story telling. Yes, Jay declined to be interviewed. Get it, got it, get it. But there is just no way that Serial‘s treatment was fair to Jay. He was cast in the role of villain, foil to the sympathetic protagonist for the first two thirds of the podcast. This was a direct consequence of Serial‘s editorial choices.

While Serial didn’t force people to spew hate online, follow Jay’s kids around or accuse him of murder, the reaction was far from unforeseeable. As Edward Wasserman, Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, put it: “Raising a hypothetical that [someone] is a lying sack of shit, and making it public, it’s leaving a question out there that may turn out to be groundless. That is a valid concern.”

On top of that, If your protagonist is a guy who convincingly claims he was wrongly convicted, it’s pretty obvious that your audience is going to start looking around for someone else to point the finger at. It’s more than a little disingenuous for Koenig to still be complaining about the horrible things said about Jay and others online. She’s complicit, intentionally or not. That’s what happens when you make a show about someone who was rightfully convicted and lead people to believe he wasn’t.

4. The BS marketing campaign: In their promotion of the Serial podcast, Koenig and her producers consistently stated that they were only a few steps ahead of us, the audience, and that we knew almost as much as they did. The ending, they said, was yet to be determined. In hindsight, this was major BS. Jay was interviewed the summer before Serial even began. After that meeting, executive producer Julie Snyder said she believed his story, which was that Adnan did it and he needed to man up and admit it. Listeners, on the other hand, were left with Jay as suspect number one for almost two months.

This marketing spin looks even more misleading in light of recent comments Koenig made to the Washington Post. She found it frustrating to hear about Serial discussions taking place at the online forum Reddit.  “Sometimes it would get reported that something on Reddit was new and Sarah Koenig didn’t report it,” Koenig said. “And I would get so tempted to be like, I already knew that you guys, I just chose not to report it for actual ethical reasons that you guys don’t care about.” Hmm, so it appears you knew a whole lot more than the audience, then?

5. Making promises and not delivering:  The first episode of Serial ended with the following clip: “Basically threatened me, like, you know what happened to Hae. This is what’s going to happen to you. That’s how I felt that day.” The interview from which this clip came was never featured on the podcast and we learned nothing more about the speaker or the threat. The whole thing disappeared into the ether with no explanation. This is not good because it’s a basic rule of journalism that you don’t mislead and misrepresent, in this case, by promising your audience something you ultimately don’t deliver. When asked about this post-podcast, Koenig came up with an answer that defies belief.  She said the speaker wasn’t referring to Adnan or anyone else ever mentioned in Serial. Seriously? Then why were you interviewing her? Was she just a random shopper you found buying a stuffed reindeer?

These five mistakes are all serious journalistic errors worthy of discussion. And, in my opinion, a lot of them arose out of the decision to go to air with Serial before it was finished, turning it into a semi-live piece of interactive journalism. I am not prepared to fault the Serial crew for doing this because I think that by trying something new, they created a totally compelling podcast. It was an innovative and important piece of journalism that certainly made me take a fresh look at how crime and justice stories can be told in different ways. But, in the end, it was a failed experiment and I think it’s time for the Serial producers and Sarah Koenig to own up to their mistakes as well as their achievements.

Is François Bugingo the biggest fabulist journalist yet?

François  Bugingo in Israel. No, it's not Photoshop, he did actually go there.

François Bugingo in Israel. No, it’s not Photoshop, he did actually go there.

I keep up to date on tales of journalistic make-believe and I’ve got to tell you this
François Bugingo story out of Quebec is the most unbelievable tale of a journalist/fabulist I’ve seen so far. It’s Brian Williams meets Stephen Glass meets Boot of the Beast meets Walter Mitty. Bugingo makes other fabulists look like unadventurous amateurs. The character he portrayed  was a superman among war correspondents — not just reporting from hot spots like Somalia, Sarajevo and Iraq but carrying out a top-secret missions for the European Commission in Egypt, negotiating the release of hostages in Mauritania, and training journalists in the Ivory Coast.

In short, the story of François Bugingo defies belief. It is not something any self-respecting journalist should ever have believed, and yet until Isabelle Hachey exposed his massive fraud in La Presse this weekend, no one seems to have questioned the crazy Bugingo narrative.

I can think of three possible reasons why François  Bugingo survived as long as he did but before I go there, here are some of the many stunning examples Hachey reported:

Bugingo claimed in 2014 that a top Libyan torturer, whose execution he witnessed in Misrata, defecated in his pants before turning to Bugingo and crying: “I hate the bad man the Guide made of me.” Problem: Bugingo was never in Misrata, according to La Presse.

Also last year, Bugingo, now 41, recounted a reporting trip he made to Sarajevo in 1993 when he would have been just a teenager. He told the tale of a sniper who spent the whole day shooting, shooting, shooting. Then, evenings, he transformed into an “exceptional artist” strumming his guitar with a bottle of Slivovitz by his side. Problem: Bugingo was never in Sarajevo at that time, according to those he said he was with.

After Sarajevo, Bugingo claims to have made his way to Rwanda in 1994, but there are no records of him ever having been there nor any archived examples of his reporting.

As the vice-president of Reporters Without Borders, Bugingo said he undertook hostage release negotiations for journalists captured around the world and engaged in other secret missions. Problem: The former secretary general of the organization says none of this ever happened.

I left Quebec in 2008 before Bugingo became famous so I have to cop to never having heard of him until today, but apparently he had developed a huge presence: a daily radio commentary on international affairs, regular spots on the TVA nightly news, a hosting job at Télé-Québec, contract gigs with Radio Canada, a blog and a column at the Journal de Montreal. Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe it. In volume, Bugingo’s journalistic output is almost as hard to fathom as the content.

But by now you get the point. The Bugingo story is unbelievable in every way, which raises the question of how on earth it took so long for someone like Isabelle Hachey to come along and blow it to pieces.

I can see three possible explanations:

  1. He was a super nice guy and/or too well connected so no one wanted to do the dirty work of investigating him. Journalists are major gossips so I find it hard to believe there was not talk about Bugingo’s — cough, cough — exploits. In cases like these, there is almost always muttering about the stories that are too good to be true and the reporters known to play it fast and loose with the facts.
  2. No one actually paid much attention to his work despite his high profile. The web stats at various news organizations provide proof that there are quite a few big name journalists whose articles actually never get read. Maybe Bugingo was one of them.
  3. He was one of very few visible minorities in a prominent role in Quebec journalism so no one wanted to take him on. Yes, I know I’ll likely get hammered for this explanation, but there it is. You’re free to pick either explanation one or two, or provide your own in the comments if you will.

Once again, life proves stranger than fiction. Or life incorporates fiction. Or, well, you get the point.

If you don't know about Boot of the Beast, it's not too late. The funniest ever book about journalism. And it holds up 75 years later.

Talking about fiction, Boot of the Beast stars in the funniest ever book about dodgy journalism — and it holds up 75 years later.

Privacy misunderstood: The public has a right to know more about Toronto tunnel

Toronto police won’t tell us who built the mysterious tunnel because —  privacy.

But speculation is rife.

The tunnellers are obviously white because only white guys get away with stuff like this:

The tunnellers are probably not white because how else to explain the paucity of information and possible political correctness:

The tunnellers are gay because gay guys need secret sex hangouts even if they’re not known for decor like this:

Toronto Tunnel Wood may have been stolen

The tunnellers are connected to people in power, possibly police, because that’s how life works:

Theories aside, there seems to be a general consensus that it’s a good thing, police didn’t reveal the tunnellers’ names given no criminal charges have been laid. And that’s fair enough. Police don’t typically announce names unless there’s been an arrest or charges. Of course, charges don’t always stick. Yet, when police do those big drug announcements they are so very fond of, they’re only too happy to name names. There were seven people named in this drug bust: 

Even though charges against all but two were dropped, Toronto police never did issue a press release about that. Google the five people whose names were splashed all over everywhere and they’re still prominently associated with a drugs and weapons bust for which they never even ended up facing charges.

In contrast, the Toronto police seem inordinately concerned about the tunnel builders. So concerned that even Ontario’s former privacy commissioner finds it strange. Ann Cavoukian, now the executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson, said while it is understandable that the tunnellers’ names remain private, the police should be much more forthcoming with information about the case, especially given that the tunnel was on public land and there is broad interest in the case.

“It’s ridiculous. The public has a right to know,” she told Global News.

As for the police line that the tunnellers built it “for personal reasons,” Cavoukian asked: “What does personal reasons mean? They wanted a place to have a smoke, hold meetings?”

When I asked police spokesman Victor Kwong if the public wasn’t owed more than a vague “personal reasons” explanation, given that police had appealed to us for information, he emailed me back:

we, the police are concerned with public safety, and once it was determined that there was no threat to public safety, it is not right for us to satiate the appetite at the expense of one’s expectation to privacy.  Please turn the tables around, and if your neighbour caused an investigation into you building a secret fort in your backyard, we wouldn’t give out details about you.  Yes, “Personal Reasons” was vague, but that’s why we did the interviews.

I replied:

I think this is getting to the crux of the issue. The way I see it is that once you a build a tunnel on public property — shipping in construction equipment, supplies of wood, deliberately hiding it — you have no legitimate expectation of privacy. This is a fundamental legal principle. Public land is not the same as my backyard. I can expect privacy on my property but not in public.
 
I am confused as to why the police seem so dedicated to protecting the identities of people who — in constructing a tunnel on PUBLIC land — lost their expectation of privacy.
 
I am also confused at the negative characterization of the public’s legitimate curiosity as an appetite needing to be satiated. The public was asked for their help and input and they gave it, and now the results of the investigation are being kept secret for only a handful of people to know.

Kwong clarified:

My term of “appetite” is not meant to be negative, but to put in metaphor their want to know.  Yes they were asked to help, and when we found out, we talked about the investigation right away… to EVERYONE…

As for any concerns about privacy vs transparency, we will get as much, if not more, criticism for divulging private information.  What we see is that everyone wants their own privacy, but transparency to everyone else’s.  You know the bashing and lawsuits we’ll get if we release private information.  On the same vein, we’ll take the bashing for not releasing private information because it’s the right thing to do.

Kwong is right. People do misunderstand what should be private and what should be public. As a reporter, I deal all the time with people who mistakenly believe I can’t write about them unless they give me permission. I also constantly have to argue with public officials who try to withhold information using the bogus privacy excuse.

In the case of the tunnel, I honestly have no idea what’s going on with the Toronto police, but I’m getting the distinct impression that they are actively out to protect the tunnellers’ identities, almost as if they’re in the witness protection program. And that is absolutely not the police’s job.

The problem here is that without knowing more about the tunnellers — their motivations, methods, personalities — the public will continue to have difficulties accepting the “man cave” explanation proffered by police. While the rules — which I agree with — are not to name names, they do not in any way compel police to withhold other critical information out of fear that someone might use it to identify the tunnellers.

The police are going way above and beyond the call of duty in this case, and in doing so they are trampling on the public’s right to know.

The tunnellers may prefer not to be identified, but if their names come out, as a result of their tunnelling activities, too bad. It’s not the job of the police to keep secret information that’s in the public interest and that comes to light via other channels.

The public deserves a sensible explanation as to why this tunnel was built. Telling us it’s “just a man cave,” “not illegal” and “move along, folks, nothing to see here” doesn’t cut it.

Give us the facts and then we’ll decide whether or not we agree with the police assessment.


Contact me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com