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“Since knowledge is but sorrow’s spy, It is not safe to know”

02/04/2012

It’s possible to laugh off many of these examples of knuckle-headed translations and proof-reading cock-ups. So a trade agreement gets delayed, or an interplanetary probe spears into the surface of Mars at the trifling cost of $656m. Hell, it’s only money, and the scoundrels would only waste it in some other way.

We should never lose sight, however, of the occasional tragic consequences of typing with your elbows.

In August 2010, the body of a young man, Gareth Williams, was found zipped and padlocked inside a sports bag, in a London flat, where it had been for several days. What made the case of interest to the Press was that he was a very gifted mathematician and programmer on secondment to MI6, who would shortly be returning to work at GCHQ, our very secret listening-post on the world’s manifold naughtinesses. GCHQ (the Government Communications Headquarters) is housed in an oddly beautiful modern building on the outskirts of Cheltenham, in the conventionally beautiful ancient Cotswolds, and is known locally as The Doughnut:

Inevitably, the case was surrounded by lurid rumour (not least by the police themselves), speculation (by the red-top Press) and careful disinformation (presumably by the spooks). Was it murder, suicide or an auro-erotic experiment gone wrong. It is accepted as virtually impossible that he could have locked the bag from the inside. He was variously described as straight, gay, asexual, transvestite, a loner, an obsessive cyclist and even, occasionally, ‘normal’. So far, so utterly irrelevant.

For 18 months the police were chasing a partial DNA profile found on the man’s hand, which seems to have been the only clue to what had happened. Countless hours were spent attempting to match the DNA to international databases, in the hope that it would reveal the murderer. Last month, however, they realised that they had spent the entire time going up a blind alley. The DNA was merely that of a forensic scientist at LGC Forensics, a laboratory which was already on the hook for “serious errors in a rape case”, and was the result of contamination at the scene.

So, why does this case make it to my small and growing rogues’ gallery? Because, according to The Times’ report of 31st March:

“LGC apologised to Mr. Williams’ family for the error, which arose because ‘two numbers were put in the wrong way round’ on a computer.”

Just think of the lifetime’s anguish that will be caused the family by that one slipshod transposition.

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2 Comments
  1. Philip permalink

    Talk of slip-shod, there are typos in the article and even in the last, crucial line!

  2. Thank you, but the last, crucial line is precisely the way I want it.

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