Kirat Assi: ‘Bobby tried to destroy my hopes, my dreams, every part of my life’

She had been ‘catfished’ for years, and now her hit podcast tells the story of tracing the scammer and her quest for justice

The voice of Kirat Assi, subject of the podcast Sweet Bobby, is so familiar I momentarily forget we had never spoken, let alone met. I am one of the million-plus listeners gripped by her story of being “catfished” – duped into a relationship by someone with a false identity.

Assi, who lives in London, fell victim to a complex fraud that lasted eight years and involved up to 60 characters who only existed in the scammer’s warped imagination. At the centre was Bobby, a handsome cardiologist with whom Assi formed a close friendship that turned into romance despite never meeting in real life. Bobby was a real person whose identity had been stolen by the scammer, eventually exposed as Assi’s cousin Simran Bhogal.

I ask how the scam, which ended in 2018, has affected her. She says that discovering the truth – that her partner, and all of the other characters created by Bhogal, did not exist – was devastating. “Imagine somebody really close to you had suddenly died, and it’s not one person, it’s all of them. I had lost everybody. Normally, even if you lose a boyfriend, your girlfriends come and look after you.”

And then there is the fact that many from within Assi’s own community have chosen to not believe the story, or to ask how she could have “let it happen”. But the breathtaking extent of the con was exposed as a result of Assi’s angry determination. She remains the very opposite of the stereotype of a naive victim – she is razor sharp, witty and has an easy charm. “For me, victim shaming is a big thing in this, it’s what shuts people up,” she says. “Please focus on the perpetrator. Why did she do this?”

Sweet Bobby Podcast Tortoise Media
Assi’s podcast, Sweet Bobby. Photograph: Tortoise Media

The deception began in 2009 when Assi, a 29-year-old radio presenter on a Punjabi station, was contacted on Facebook by Bhogal’s ex-boyfriend, JJ, asking for help on how to win her back. They began to message each other, then when Assi was told JJ had died from an allergic reaction, Bhogal gave her the details for JJ’s brother, Bobby, so she could send condolences. He was someone Assi knew of from the west London Sikh community.

As Assi was “getting to know” Bobby, Bhogal ingratiated herself into her life, and became her confidante as the relationship developed, and, later, went horribly wrong.

After five years of messages over Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp, Assi fell in love with Bobby, and considered herself in a relationship, “after much pressure and emotional guilt tripping”, she tells me.

But there were many obstacles from the outset. Bobby claimed he was in a witness protection programme having been shot in Kenya. He also apparently developed many life-threatening illnesses as a result, which meant he was stuck in hospital in New York. He was manipulative, and, despite her doubts and being told he would only live a matter of months, Assi became emotionally entrapped.

“There was always an excuse why he couldn’t come to London,” says Assi. “When we tried to have a video call, he told me his phone was broken and came up with extraordinary excuses for why he couldn’t get a new one. I said, ‘I’m not turning my video on either’. That was me being angry. He would then say, ‘Just turn it on for a minute, just so I can see you,’ because he wanted to make sure I was sitting in my room.”

Bobby began to exert more control over Assi, monitoring her movements and dictating her choices. “Bobby would be like, ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you at home? Why aren’t you in your room?’ I didn’t understand why I was sitting at home if he wasn’t here. It was not like me at all.”

Assi tells me: “He used to test my reactions to things all the time, it was part of him torturing me. One day he asked, ‘If I joined Isis, would you come with me?’ What was I supposed to say? If I said ‘no’, he is going to pick a fight with me, but he might have a heart attack (remember his life-threatening medical condition). But saying ‘yes’ didn’t feel right either.”

When Bobby was supposed to be in London, three years into their relationship, Assi became suspicious of the real reason why he still refused to see her. She discovered real Bobby’s last known address was actually in Brighton, and so confronted him there.

After the horrendous events this confrontation unleashed, Assi turned to Bhogal telling her what had happened, and made the decision to report the deception to the police. “I told them, ‘I’m scared, I want something on record just in case something happens.’ [Bhogal] sat next to me and verified everything to the police.” The next day Bhogal confessed to the scam. “She said, it was me, I was Bobby, I was all of them.”

But when Assi reported Bhogal to police they told her: “You’re not the victim, [the real Bobby] is.”

Police have told Assi that what happened to her is not a crime, which she refuses to accept. Having won a substantial settlement in her civil case against Bhogal for harassment, misuse of private information and data protection breaches, Assi is continuing to challenge the police decision to not pursue her for coercive control, stalking and harassment.

“It was a slow destruction of everything I had. Bobby targeted every part of my life – my career, my dreams, my hopes, my relationship with family, with friends, my studies,” says Assi. “I could have met someone real, had a baby during that time. But the other impact has been on my mental and physical health.”

Assi is understandably upset that she is viewed as gullible by some who do not understand the lengths Bhogal went to in order to dupe her.

“She could make up whatever she wanted as she was obviously stalking [the real Bobby] and his family and his wife’s family,” says Assi.

There is no law against catfishing but Assi believes there should be. “Such a law would serve as a deterrent,” she says. “It’s shocking how common it is.”

What does she think motivated Bhogal’s behaviour?

“I think she enjoyed power; she enjoyed me being a challenge,” says Assi, who is slowly rebuilding her life. She is back on her old slot at the radio station, is working in freelance marketing, and hoping to be in a position to move out of the family home and in to her own place soon.

I ask Assi how she would feel if she bumped into Bhogal. After all, they live only 20 minutes apart and share an extended family.

“I don’t want to see or speak to her again for the sake of my health,” she says. “I just want her to be held accountable for her actions and to take responsibility. And if she needs help with her mental health, she should get that, too.”

  • Sweet Bobby, a six-part podcast, is available now at Tortoise Media


Julie Bindel

The GuardianTramp

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