Ironically, Kirat Assi used feel at ease falling asleep to her lover’s breathing. 

They would continue to live together for three-and-a half years; their lives were synchronized in the most intimate way.

Yes, it was disappointing that she could not be physically with Bobby, the man that she had planned to spend her whole life with. But long-distance relationships have become a modern reality and couples have overcome many hurdles to make them work.

Bobby and Kirat did it with a pair of Skype headphones each, she in London, and he in New York. 

She admits she went through two to three sets. There was sometimes a sexual element to their intimacy.

Sometimes it was more chaste. They would chat. Play (online) Scrabble. 

She read him the entire Harry Potter book over time. They would then snuggle together for the night, and fall asleep together.

Do you feel hopelessly romantic? No. It’s the part of their ‘relationship’ — yes, we need the inverted commas — that now causes Kirat, 42, the most distress.

Bobby’s insistence on them being together like that nightly became controlling. Kirat even considered suicide. 

She was wrong to believe that Bobby was in love.

This is a love story that never was. Kirat found out that she was the victim of a decade-long deception known as “catfishing” that left her in shock.

Catfishing is a technique of luring someone into an intimate relationship by creating a fake online persona. 

Kirat, a former radio broadcaster and event organiser (sensible & media-savvy she thought; certainly no gullible), was enticed.

In 2018, Kirat Assi (pictured), 42, discovered that she had been the victim of a decade-long 'catfishing' deception that was so shocking she collapsed when she found out the truth

Kirat Assi, 42, (pictured), discovered in 2018 that she was the victim of a decade-long deception known as ‘catfishing’. She collapsed when she realized the truth

Additional agony was also present. For the person who created the alternative horror world into which Kirat, unwittingly, stepped, was not only a woman — with a high-flying career, incidentally — but also a distant cousin and someone who had become a friend.

Kirat states that she only confessed to it when the police intervened. She came to my house. She stood there and said, “It was all mine.” 

“I didn’t understand what she meant at the beginning. She said she was Bobby. I still didn’t get it.’

Gradually, Kirat realized the terrible truth. She asked: “So who has been sleeping with me on the phone these past three and-a-half years?” She replied, “me”.

‘I collapsed. I was physically sick. She never explained why. She simply said, “I was a dark place” as well as “I’ve ruined mine own life.”

Some stories are so extraordinary that they are almost unbelievable. 

I thought the same before I met Kirat, but I don’t know much about what happened. How can a woman who appears intelligent think she is in a romantic relationship (an intimate one) with a man she does not know?

The story is — there is no other way to put this — quite nuts. It includes, spoiler alert, people dying and mysteriously returning to life.

After talking to Kirat, who was sometimes tearful, for several hours and spending much more time looking through the documents she produced (one is 145 pages), it became clear that something truly frightening had happened to her.

It is also important to note that there is a paper trace (or, better yet, an online footprint) of all the thousands of conversations, emails, and messages she exchanged with Bobby and his friends.

The full story of Kirat will be told in a series of podcasts by Tortoise Media. This is a respected news website that was founded by a former editor at The Times.

Over months, investigators worked with Kirat and with witnesses, lawyers, and other victims in this fascinating story (including Bobby). 

They believe this is the longest-running and most complex case ever of catfishing to come to light.

The deception involved creating an entire community, not just one individual.

Kirat, who lives in West London, has since discovered 50 members of the supporting ‘cast’ — members of Bobby’s family, and online friends — were fabricated, too.

Kirat names Simran Bhogal as the woman behind this deception. Simran is a relative Kirat only knew from family functions.

They had more contact, however, when a work project took Kirat to Simran’s school, where she was head girl and a straight A* student. 

Kirat took Simran under her wing and gave her her mobile number. She became a confidante over time, making this betrayal even more devastating. Kirat says, “She has taken ten year’s of my life, years I will never get back.”

“In that time, I could have met someone real and had a child. I lost my friends, my work, and my savings.

‘I opened up to him — her! — telling him things about my hopes, dreams, my childhood, that I’d never tell anyone. I feel violated.

The story began in September 2009, when Kirat, a prominent member London’s Sikh community was working as an arts assistant for Hounslow Community Services and presenting a show at Radio Desi, a station that serves the Punjabi community.

She was in a relationship and wasn’t looking for love at the time. 

She received a Facebook message, presumably from Simran’s ex boyfriend, JJ, asking for help. 

He wanted to get her advice after their split. Kirat didn’t know JJ personally but she was aware of his online profile and could see that they were mutual friends. She also accepted a friend request from JJ (she wouldn’t accept a friend request form a stranger, she says).

She found JJ to be charming, and they kept in touch for the next five years. Simran sent her the shocking news that JJ had died suddenly in Kenya. 

Simran gave the email address to Bobby, JJ’s brother so that Kirat could send her condolences. So far, so good.

Kirat names the woman behind this epic deception as Simran Bhogal (pictured far right), a relative some 13 years her junior, who, at the start, Kirat knew only vaguely from family functions

Kirat names Simran, a relative of hers, as the woman behind this deception (pictured far right). Kirat had only vaguely known Simran from family functions at the beginning.

Kirat didn’t realize that JJ, Bobby and the versions of them she communicated with were fictional.

The deception was created by using Bobby’s photos and biographical information.

Kirat had her first encounter on Facebook with Bobby in November 2010. 

They discovered they shared the same birth date and he told her that he was married with a baby on the way.

Although there was nothing sexual or ‘deep’ about their relationship, they developed a very close friendship. Bobby was a cardiacologist. His Facebook page contained photos of him in hospital scrubs.

Over the next months, they became acquainted online and shared details about their respective relationships, including Bobby’s divorce. 

She said, “We were not close, but I viewed him as a friend and a little brother.”

An incident occurred in a Brighton club in 2011, when Kirat actually met Bobby. 

It was possible to discover the whole deception before any damage was done. But it wasn’t.

She says, “It was a night for hens, and I wasn’t expecting him to be there. But I recognized him from his Facebook photo.”

“I went up to introduce myself. He seemed very vague. I thought he may have had a few beers. The music was loud. . . Perhaps he couldn’t hear me. It was strange.

Evidently, Kirat now wishes she had pressed the issue, demanded to understand why Bobby was acting so cool, when he had been warm, chatty, during their online conversations.

She thought that they were going to a distant friendship. They continued to communicate with each other, with Bobby (fake), updating her when he moved back to Australia and remarried.

She was at work in November 2013 when she received a message on Facebook stating that Bobby had been shot and was now in a coma with memory loss. In January 2014, she found out that he had passed away.

“I was invited to join his Facebook group. It had 39 members. Since then, I discovered that none of them were true.

It only gets more bizarre. These events take place over four years and span continents. It sounds like a very absurd film plot.

What was the first twist? Bobby (the fake) was brought back to life. Kirat received an email from Bobby (the fake one) informing her that he was alive and in a witness protection program. 

She acknowledges that it was ‘ridiculous’. “But at every step, these mad events were being backed-up by other people.”

She would have refused to say she was close with Bobby, but she received reports that he was drinking heavily and his second marriage was in serious trouble. He was also suicidal.

He would likely suffer a brain tumor in 2015, followed by a stroke.

Kirat was asked by another cousin, also part of the fabricated cast, to speak to Bobby over the phone. 

She became — and again, she says it seemed perfectly sane because this madness was being corroborated — a confidante, muse, almost a remote nurse. She was slowly being dragged in.

Before they ever ‘got together,’ Bobby had already declared his love to her. This happened on Valentine’s Day 2015.

“I didn’t think he would live. His consultant [yes there were also constant messages from his fake medical team, which Kirat accepted at face value]I didn’t think he would live past July.

Her feelings about the ‘dying man were mixed. “I am not a mushy type of person. I was confused when he said “I love you” but I did love him. . . As a friend, then.

“I also thought, “Where’s the harm?” It’s not like I was ever going into a physical relationship. He kept trying to get me to think of it. Everyone else kept repeating the same thing: “Oh, he is so in love with me.”

Flowers arrived at her house — from fake Bobby. It was a case that he may have suffered a stroke but he still thought of me. He bought me earrings and a pendant. I’d never been the center of attention.

Kirat now feels foolish but insists that she is not stupid.

You get sucked in as she documents her insanity. I start to forget that Bobby we are talking about isn’t real. Because the emotional connection was genuine.

Their relationship became sexual. She won’t share all the details, but she points out that she has never sent him naked pictures.

The fake Bobby is believed to have instigated these acts. Kirat admits that she felt intimidated by his more sexual experiences. This part she finds repellent.

Their first relationship was largely through online messaging forums. However, they did talk in person. How did they do it? How could she have known that Bobby was her cousin Simran?

“No, because he had lost his voice following his stroke. He was in speech therapy. One time, someone else was with him and heard his voice. We laughed at how squeaky it sounded. His consultant reached out to Bobby to inform him of his injuries. I eventually apologised.

There are thousands of recorded calls, emails and text messages that record all these exchanges. It’s almost creepy.

Kirat and Bobby made a new life together in 2014 and 2015. “Bobby” said that he didn’t know if he could have children but encouraged her to take folic Acid, as preparation. Cruel.

‘Simran understood how much I wanted children. She took the details from my life and used them.

Fast forward to 2017, where there were more soap opera-level lurches. “Bobby,” was becoming increasingly controlling. Kirat was forced to pay for a private Mammogram at a London Hospital by Bobby. She complained of chest pains and then became agitated when he told her that the consultant had been a man.

She was working in event management at the time, but she had been sick and stressed out. She eventually lost the job. “I tried to find another job, but Bobby refused to let me work.”

Kirat wanted to meet Bobby, but nothing would happen despite every attempt to arrange.

He once said that he had a heart attack while talking to her on the phone.

Things quickly went sour, but Kirat continued to press him for more details and he threatened suicide.

Those around him — including the (fake) consultant who was treating him, who contacted Kirat, too — would tell her she was vital to his recovery.

She then found a photo of him online with another woman. He didn’t look even remotely hospital-bound. This was a picture of the real Bobby, who — all the while — had been living in blissful ignorance of the sinister exploitation of his identity.

Did the deception have been exposed? No. Fake Bobby confessed that he had an affair with Kirat, which was another ruse but a successful diversion. Kirat was so devastated she couldn’t question it. She even considered suicide.

“I used to go on drives. Driving calms your nerves and keeps you off the phone,’ she said.

“I stopped on a bridge across a motorway and got out. I just stood looking down, wondering if I would fall right now. ‘

Bobby seemed to be well enough to travel to London in 2018 from New York.

He stalled and they agreed to meet. He then told her that he was in London, and she arrived to find he wasn’t there.

Kirat had in desperate need of a private investigator, and this was the final piece of the puzzle.

She doesn’t seem able to identify the subject she was researching (it wasn’t ‘Does Bobby actually exist?).She did not know what she was looking at, but she found an address in Brighton for him and drove there on a Saturday in June.

She said, “It’s the first thing I hadn’t told Simran about.” She was back in the real world, of course. She had the address for Bobby. Showdown time.

When Bobby — the real one, completely clueless about the whole crazy thing — came out of the front door, looking at her as if she was a stranger, she was stunned.

“I said “Hi, it’s you” and he looked at my confused face. He replied, “I don’t know who your brother is.” I mentioned his brother and he said: “Oh, you must be confused with my brother.” I kept repeating: “No, no.”

“I showed him pictures from my phone. The confusion continued because the pictures Kirat had of Bobby were taken by Simran to create his fake online account.

Then, a beautiful woman appeared. His supposedly ex-wife appeared with his son. “I was dumbstruck. This was evident evidence that he had been unfaithful once more. He was caught red-handed.

Things were now getting quite absurd. Bobby, who was actually unaware of what Kirat was talking to, threatened to call police. 

Her mind was in a blur. Was Bobby under duress? 

Did his ex-wife get involved? Kirat called her trusted friend and kept her on the phone so she could hear every word. 

Simran, the man she was impersonating for so many years, let Simran talk to Bobby.

“She told us to go home. But I was reeling.” Kirat relates that she just remembered dropping the phone and sitting on a nearby grass verge.

She suddenly realized that she had been deceived. But who? And why?

Simran, her faithful cousin, was still there holding her hand when she returned home. “We went for a ride. Kirat says that she asked Kirat to drive as I wasn’t feeling well.

‘I was concerned for her, saying that she had been duped as well — everyone had.’

Simran, Kirat’s traumatizing trip to Brighton on Monday, said that she would be coming home to work with her. 

Kirat saw her brother and cousin outside, having an argument.

Simran came in and said that she had something for her. “She replied, “It was all mine. Those were the most haunting words.

Kirat is so upset that she can’t even tell the story. 

‘I’m having an emotional meltdown just thinking about this. I didn’t understand what she meant. Then, I didn’t believe her. I fell back.

“I remember knowing my friend,” [a real-life friend]I was standing across the road, screaming for her: “Come now!” I need you now!’ She held me and I was ill.

“Simran just shrugged. She said, “I was in an awful place.” I’ve also ruined my life. She never said sorry. I clearly remember telling her that she could have stopped it at any moment. Ten years! You could have stopped it — you sicko!’ Then, I fell asleep.

It was probably a very distraught Kirat that went to London’s police station and was devastated by what happened next.

“The officer behind me took the relative who was with me and said: “Are they sure she’s OK in her head?” I had a meltdown. They didn’t see me in that light.

“At first, they believed that the victim was the one who had been impersonated. Much of this was about me saying, “Help me!”

This is a difficult legal question. Kirat was clearly a victim. But, what crime, if any, was she committing? 

It doesn’t seem like a ruse to extort money (although Kirat claims that he has lost ‘hundreds and thousands of pounds’, mainly from lost earnings). 

Experts in legal matters involved in the Tortoise investigation believe that the existing laws covering ‘coercive, controlling’ relationships should suffice to bring a case (even if the coercive control was being exercised by someone who wasn’t real).

However, while Brighton police did investigate Kirat’s initial complaint but the case was later transferred from Hounslow to her home borough.

Simran was not interviewed by the authorities.

Kirat brought a civil suit against Simran last year. Simran still lives with her parents, and works in financial services. 

It was settled outside of court. Although some details are not available, we can report that Simran was included in the settlement.

In a statement she made via her lawyers, she stated that this matter concerns a family dispute that started more than a ten years ago, when she was still a schoolgirl. 

“I have lost contact with Ms Assi for many years and no longer have any communications between me and her.”

Kirat has a lot to lose by speaking out. Her extended family may think that the matter should be’swept underthe rug’. However, Kirat believes that authorities need to treat catfishing more seriously. She hopes that speaking out about her experience will help raise awareness about the dangers.

Dr Charlotte Proudman, a prominent barrister, cites Kirat’s tale as evidence that catfishing should stand alone.

Kirat says, “If it has happened to you, on this scale,” it can happen to anyone. It is wrong that no one takes it seriously.

‘We live our lives online now — banking, shopping . . . everything — and we have to be safe. I was not secure. This is dangerous.

Sweet Bobby, a six-part podcast from Tortoise Media, is available on all major podcast platforms including Apple and Spotify.